Dr Glendon G. Newsome | Squatter management – census or cadastre?
The Sunday Gleaner of June 3 carried a front-page story titled 'Serial squatters', in which it was reported that, "Some squatters who were relocated by the state agencies to formal communities have since rented out the properties they were given and have gone back to live in the squatter settlements."
The problem of squatting, while not unique to Jamaica, is an age-old problem which is grounded in a combination of factors, inter alia, a culture of a freeness mentality among some of our citizens, lack of timely and proper planning and land management on the part of the State, and rank carelessness on the part of the legitimate owners (including the State) of land which has become the subject of squatting.
It is a well-known legal concept that if a person occupies privately owned land, in an open an undisturbed manner for a period of 12 years or more, and 60 years in the case of government property, that such person(s) may apply to be legally registered as the owners of the whole or part of the property on which they are squatting, under what is known as adverse possession.
This can take place even if the legal owner is registered with a certificate of title, under the Registration of Titles Act.
Two principles apply here, "if you don't use it, you will lose it" and "occupation is 9/10th of the law". The latter is instructive to those who believe that paying property taxes is adequate demonstration of the exercise of their rights over the land.
Of course, cases of squatting have been successfully challenged in court, the most recent of which is Eugster vs 37 squatters, which was reported on in The Gleaner of June 5.
While it is commendable that the Government has a Squatter Management Unit within the Ministry of Job Creation and Economic Growth, the number of squatters in the island is escalating exponentially.
The extent to which the exact numbers are unknown, the Government is "to spend $37 million to undertake a comprehensive census to determine the number of squatters locally, and to assess the characteristics and scope of informal communities in the country", according to a Sunday Gleaner article titled 'Ministry to spend big on squatting census'.
While note is taken of the fact that the process is to be undertaken using geographic information science (GIS) technology, which can be used to capture, store, retrieve, query, manipulate and update land parcel information, as well as the names and other data on the owners and/or occupiers of land, is the desired product a census or a cadastre?
A cadastre is typically a parcel-based system, in which the smallest unit is the land parcel. All the parcels in a given region are usually depicted on large scale (1:10,000 - 1:500) maps called cadastral maps, by boundary lines captured from accurate field surveys, satellite remote sensing imagery, aerial photographs or field sketches made on the maps.
Each parcel is assigned a unique code or parcel identifier, which is inscribed within the parcel space. It is a listing of a collection of land parcels, usually separated into two components a textual, reflecting ownership rights and value, and spatial or map based reflecting shape, size and location of parcels.
Over time, given technological advancements, both are being integrated into one unit in a digital form. Its features include security, clarity and simplicity, timeliness, fairness, accessibility and sustainability. At some stage of the life cycle of a cadastre is a window for revision and renewal.
The textual aspect of the records must be updated, for example, where owners are deceased and land use changes, parcels have been subdivided or consolidated and these were not noted in the normal course of data maintenance.
It is also regarded as a map representing landownership in an area which is maintained for the purposes of administering property taxation or for the creation of a public record of ownership, the number of parcels increasing through a process of legally subdividing existing parcels.
A cadastre must reflect the rights, restrictions and responsibilities of the tenure system, as well as the spatial framework within which these reside.
Cadastres play two important roles in land administration, first, by providing an all authoritative description of the humankind to land and property relationship, and second, the provision of basic and authoritative spatial information on the unique identification of land parcels in digital land information systems.
The description of land objects within the framework of a cadastre allows for efficient assessment of values and taxes, and likewise the management of the collection of those taxes.
The fundamental role of the cadastre in economic development is clear. The cadastre gathers, manages, and shares information among all stakeholders, which defines and reinforces property rights. In turn, the property rights translate into economic development, social stability and physical well-being.
The economic benefits that may be derived from land have to be supported by a modern cadastre, which contains all information property rights, restrictions and responsibilities as well as the location and size of parcels in a cadastral map, and must be supported by relevant policies, laws, regulations as well as administrative systems.
The authority on the cadastre in Jamaica is the National Land Agency, within the Ministry of Job Creation and Economic Growth. Our existing cadastre is being managed and maintained by the Land Valuation Division of the agency.
Given the incomplete nature of our cadastre any effort in collecting information relating to persons and their relationship with land must, as an imperative, take place in an integrated and coordinated approach with the National Land Agency.
Too often in this small island of ours do we see a duplication of effort, and worse, without the desired outcome. Having made the case for the cadastre, it is hoped that the powers that be will see it fit to embrace this concept.
- Dr Glendon G. Newsome is a commissioned land surveyor and a senior lecturer in land surveying and geographic information sciences in the Faculty of the Built Environment, University of Technology, Jamaica.