First World status by 2030?

A senior attorney is lamenting the roadblocks Jamaicans face in getting land titles and is arguing that achieving First World status by 2030 will remain a moving target, given the fact that many citizens have property for which they have no documents showing ownership.

With background for her claim being land registration status data from the National Land Agency (NLA), Gloria Brown Mills, senior partner at Brown, Findley and Co, told a recent seminar titled ‘Dead lef law and you; whose is it?’ that the issue needs to be addressed.

“The Registration of Titles Act was passed in 1889 and under that law we started registering properties, and it is just haphazard. There is no order in the registration process. I can register my little piece there, you can register yours there, so we have a lot of challenges there,” Brown Mills told the audience at the seminar put on by the Legal Aid Clinic at Bethel Baptist Church in St Andrew.

According to the NLA, 85.5 per cent of lands in Kingston are titled, St Andrew 82.52 per cent, St Catherine 65.77 per cent, St James 63.87 per cent, St Ann 42.63 per cent, Westmoreland 39.78 per cent, Manchester 39.40 per cent, St Elizabeth 35.76 per cent, St Thomas 35.26 per cent, Hanover 34.70 per cent, St Mary 34.18 per cent, Trelawny 31.19 per cent, Clarendon 29.87 per cent, and Portland 27.20 per cent.

“How can we have development, how can we talk about 2030 First World status when the registration process is [this way]? That’s a challenge we are having. Persons have the assets but we have no documentation — and that’s something we have to change,” Brown Mills said, noting that “land [ownership] is the mystery of capital”.

The attorney, in the meantime, argued that the process Jamaicans have to go through to get their properties titled is a relic of the colonial past and is made cumbersome by design.

“We need to realise that when Columbus and Oliver Cromwell invaded Jamaica we never had a title in law so none of the land was titled. It was just like the wild west — everybody trying to grab a piece — and in order to give incentives to persons to come from England to live in Jamaica they were giving large tracts of land… All land is owned by the Crown, that’s why the Government can just say to you, ‘We need that piece of land, we are going to pay you for it.’ You can’t really say no,” Brown Mills told the audience.

“The registration of titles process is difficult because, remember, in times past in order for you to vote you had to own land, you had to have a title. So I am thinking these legislation were passed to make it partially impossible.

“I remember some years ago when I asked the Titles Office what was the rate of success for the lawyers who were applying for titles, they told me the first registration application from the private bar was 10 per cent successful. Ten per cent of the applications made by lawyers for titles were successful, because the aim is really to make the system difficult. So, it’s difficult for persons to get a title,” she charged.

Brown Mills said while the Land Administration and Management Programme (LAMP) has made it easier for Jamaicans to get titles for the lands they occupy, the process is still tedious.

In the meantime, she said perceptions Jamaicans have about land ownership have also proven to be deterrents.

“I don’t know how I am going to get it in the heads of Jamaicans that paying the taxes can’t make you own land. You pay the taxes every year but I am living on the land. You have your house, you lock it up and paying the taxes every year, and I break into it and live in it, after 12 years the house is mine — and I’m glad you’re paying the taxes because when I am ready to cancel your title I don’t have any taxes to pay,” she said in urging Jamaicans to educate themselves about property ownership.

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