Concerns about divestment of crown lands a longstanding issue
The national Policy Framework and Procedures Manual for the Divestment of Government Lands, which was published in 2015 by the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, provides guidelines for how the sale or lease of Crown land is to be treated.
According to the document, land represents the country's single largest asset, with the Government being the largest land owner, having an estimated 35,000 parcels ranging from less than one to over 2,000 hectares.
"There have been concerns expressed about the process by which public lands are divested, principal among them being the multiplicity of standards used by relevant agencies and inadequate transparency in the process," the document reads. "There have been concerns expressed about the process by which public lands are divested, several of which have been enunciated in the 1996 National Land Policy.
"The public has been critical of the manner in which government-owned lands are divested, and there is a general lack of confidence in existing practices. The contractor general has noted that the sale of land should be awarded on the basis of competitiveness, impartiality, and merit," it said.
The ministry said that among the concerns raised were the inadequate transparency in the process used for disposal of land and perceived inequity in land distribution; insufficient collaboration between government entities holding, divesting, and acquiring properties for development; insufficient monitoring; and control of the use of divested government lands.
Five years earlier, then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr Christopher Tufton announced that the Government would be conducting a serious review of the country's land-use policy in a bid to support and strengthen agriculture in the island. Tufton had said that the lands would be protected by legislation to avoid development from taking place, which could compromise or undermine them.
At the time, Tufton said there was 2.7 million acres of land in the country, 17 per cent, or 540,000, of which was considered arable. He said the ministry would be engaging in discussions with some of the nation's developers to focus on developing marginal lands and reserving the agricultural lands for farming.
He also said that all leasing arrangements would be reviewed as many leasees of Crown lands were not engaged in agricultural production, and the necessary actions would be taken to rightfully lease such lands to persons who were willing use them to drive agriculture.