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Ministry: Land divestment lacks transparency

Published:Friday | February 20, 2015 | 10:19 AM

A new, streamlined land divestment policy was tabled in Parliament last month that aims to speed up privatisations for development purposes but also to deter speculation.

The properties involved include some 35,000 parcels of landing ranging in size from less than one hectare to more than 2,000 hectares, according to the new 'Land Divestment Policy Procedures' tabled by the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change.

"The Government has adopted a general policy of divesting economic assets, including land, at an accelerated pace," the paper said. It identifies the state bodies with land holdings as: the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development Corporation, Development Bank of Jamaica, Commission of Lands, Jamaica Bauxite Mining, SCJ Jamaica Holdings Limited and the National Water Commission.

The land divestment programme, which is ongoing, facilitates industrial, commercial, conservation, residential, recreation and institutional, and agricultural activities.

The land ministry, in its preamble, said that there was a concern with a "lack of comprehensive inventory to direct a strategic divestment process; and the multiplicity of standards used by different agencies to divest land".

Additionally, it said that it was concerned with the inadequate transparency in the process of disposal of lands and the lack of collaboration between agencies. And it proposes that a comprehensive inventory of all lands be done.

The policy also proposes to unify the way in which all government agencies that hold land go about their disposal, and seeks to reduce speculative activity, by invoking first right of refusal on properties being resold.

"Where the purchaser of the land wants to resell and has not used the land for the intended use, the Government will have first right of refusal at the original sale price within six months of being notified of the intent to sell," said the policy paper.

The document also makes clear that the intention is not to divest all government-owned lands, and that the state will continue to reserve land for recreation, conservation, urban expansion and institutional purposes such as schools, hospitals and cemeteries.

For agricultural, mineral-bearing lands and beaches, the preferred mode of divestment is by way of lease, the policy paper stated.

It is also noted that where divested lands are leased for a permitted use, the intended use will be enforced.

The paper proposes that land be sold/divested at market value, except in circumstances where the property will be used for social purposes or is acquired by another government agency. Peppercorn leases, it said, were also permissible for social development purposes.

Valuations, which must be done either by the Registrar of Land Valuation or a chartered valuation surveyor, must be completed for each transaction in line with the best use of each parcel. Where the project value is above a certain threshold and requires Cabinet approval, two valuations must be done, each no older than 12 months.

The policy paper also recommends the advertising of divestment opportunities.