By Alexander Shaw, Columnist
Universally, land can perhaps be considered one of the most valuable properties of all time.
Some parcels are more valuable than others; the value of which largely depends on its location and attractiveness.
It is a resource we care to cherish in the Caribbean, owing to the region’s small size and the increasing demands for more space to expand in not just accommodation but commerce and agriculture.
As a former enslaved territory, Jamaica is still anchored to the past, especially where land is concerned. Understanding the intricacies of this area is as expensive as its acquisition. No wonder why so many Jamaicans disregard the legal formalities and just ‘squat’ at a convenient location.
But do people really want to be ‘squatters’? My answer is a resounding no – and I shall tell you why.
When the emancipation proclamation was read in 1838, those who were forced to become inhabitants of this land by the transatlantic trade were given an ultimatum of either being thrown in the streets, into some hilly and stony terrain, or being a ‘boasy slave’ working on the plantation for a little pocket change.
But like a mistress who has suffered for years in an abusive relationship, and would flee hostage at any expense, the freed people ran and never looked back. They ran onto the stony lands until the demands for more space got greater.
African descendants were given the worse parcels of land to occupy, while the European invaders stamp their seals on the remaining space across the country – calling them ‘Crown land’, which meant land belonging to the ‘Queen’. The term ‘crown land’ has survived the test of time and, in my view, continues to cause mischief in independent Jamaica.
Though the crown lands no longer belong to the Queen, but to the Government of Jamaica whom it was passed to upon independence, there seems to be no real distinction.
I believe the time has come for the Jamaican government to recognize that the division on property was not fairly done in 1838, and it is by virtue of that why African descendants are still without ‘real estate’.
Our forefathers shed their blood and were whipped mercilessly for us to own these lands. Yet, so many Jamaicans neither have good title to these lands nor their names registered in the title books at the National Land Agency.
Instead of legitimately giving Jamaicans these lands to live thereon, successive governments have seen it fit to bequeath them to foreign investors in an effort to crystalize friendship. As an effect, many people turn to squatting and sometimes become victims of bulldozing.
Let us face it, land is very expensive. The average Jamaican can hardly afford to put food on the table much less to find millions to do a purchase.
Just the legal fees alone will cause you to forget about the proper procedure of acquisition, let alone transfer tax and stamp duty. Although the percentage of transfer tax is only 5 percent of the total land value, which appears to be low, cumulatively you will have to fork out some hundreds of thousands.
Despite having a National Land Agency (NLA), whose main function is to be the vanguard of registered land, 50 percent of land in Jamaica is unregistered – and I will tell you it is no fault of NLA.
Many of these unregistered owners really want their lands to be brought under the registered system, but the process is extremely laborious and discouraging to the ordinary man, who has less than sufficient knowledge of the procedure.
Therefore, I am calling on the government to make more land available to the indigent and less fortunate Jamaican. Simplify the process of acquiring these lands, and ensure that residential spaces are properly regulated.
Squatting breeds crime and violence. People in many of these areas are normally discriminated against by mainstream society because of their address. Some find recourse in illegal activities, as they think the ‘system’ is not for them. Why? They feel neglected by the state. Their communities have limited or poor infrastructure, to include roads, light, water and a proper garbage disposal system. As a result, they find recourse in ‘bridging the gap’ in order to lead comfortable lives.
We can end that plight if we fix the land crisis and properly regulate zones designated for residential purposes.
We have given away enough land to the foreigners when our people have nowhere to call their own. In closing, I amplify an appeal Reggae artiste Chronixx made for the ‘boasy slaves’ to not forget the people.
Alexander L. Shaw is an educator and an attorney-at-law. The views he expressed are not necessarily those of The Beacon. Email your feedback to him at Legalservices.firstname.lastname@example.org and to The Beacon at email@example.com
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