A prominent lawyer and human rights activist has accused the Ralph Gonsalves government of tricking citizens into paying for lands that they own legally through adverse possession.
Kay Bacchus-Browne levelled the accusation at a rally of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in Murray’s Village at the weekend.
Speaking at the event, Bacchus-Browne said she had a copy of one of several distributed by the government to people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in which the government says it is giving lands to the people at a low price — 50 cents a square foot, in some instances.
She said the letter that came from Lands & Surveys Department says that Cabinet, on Feb. 11, 2015, advised approval for the sale of one parcel of land to the recipient, includes the measurement of the land, and quotes a total cost.
The communiqué asks the recipient to pay a purchase tax of 5 per cent and further said they will be required to enter into a purchase agreement with the Lands and Surveys Department.
The payment of consideration for the land shall be that the recipient of the letter pays for the land in full, in one instalment, within a year.
Alternatively, they can pay by instalments, providing that not less than one-third of the full cost of the purchase is paid within 12 months and then the balance is paid in four equal instalments.
Interest will be charged on the outstanding balance, the letter said.
The land shall be utilised principally for residential purposes and payment shall be made to the Lands & Surveys Department, the Ministry of Housing, Informal Human Settlement, Lands & Surveys and Physical Planning.
Failure to comply with any of these conditions shall result in the immediate termination of the purchase agreement, the letter says, adding that in the event of the termination of the purchase agreement, the full cost of the purchase, which is already paid, will be refunded.
Bacchus-Browne further told the NDP rally that the letter was followed by an agreement, made on March 5, 2015, between the purchaser and Governor General, acting on behalf of the Government and the Chief Surveyor.
“Now, having said all of this, I want to take you to an act in St. Vincent that is called the Limitation Act,” she said.
Bacchus-Browne quoted Section 17 of that Act as saying that anyone who had been living on land for 12 years, without the permission of the owner and regards the lands as their own, can apply for possession of the land.
It further says the title of the owner is extinguished, she pointed out.
The lawyer, however, noted another piece of legislation called the Possessory Titles Act, which allows persons to go to court and get a deed for the land.
“Now, that Section has an interesting part to it. Section 17 (6). Section 17 (6) says Part 2 of the schedule contain provisions modifying provisions of this section in their application to actions brought by a person claiming through the Crown.
“Let’s get to Crown lands. This same act says that anybody who is living on Crown lands for 30 years continuously in adverse possession and the government does nothing to reclaim it, the title is extinguished.
“So we get back to these letters. My information is that there are a number of persons who got these letters where the title for the government is already extinguished.
“What sort of trickery is this? What sort of professional is Ralph Gonsalves? What professional is his son, Camillo and many of the others on the platform?”
Both Gonsalves and his son, Camillo, are lawyers.
“Are you telling me that Ralph Gonsalves don’t know the law? Is it a mistake? So here you have a government telling you land that you own by law, you can’t use it except for residential purposes and you must pay them, and if you don’t you must pay interest.
“I do not think this is right and that’s why I thought I should come here tonight and say this clearly to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — don’t be fooled by this charade. That’s not Labour love. That’s not how you love people. You don’t trick them into taking their hard-earned money to pay for lands that they own.
“And, according to the Possessory Titles Act, you can come to court even for Crown lands and do the necessary application and own that land, get a deed, which you can take to the bank.
“So, I want all of you who are listening to tell your friends, your neighbours and those in radio-land who got these letters, once you on the land for 30 years — and it does not have to be you, it can be for your ancestors — once your family owns the land continuously, use it as your own land, they cannot take it from you. They cannot force you to pay that money. Wake up St. Vincent. Don’t be tricked by lawyers who should know better,” Bacchus-Browne said.
“All those persons who have signed this agreement already, it is void and of non-effect. And so, wha’ we should do wid dem?” she said as the crowd responded: “Geh rid ah dem”.
“Geh rid ah dem. Deh doh love you!” Bacchus-Browne said of the ULP administration, which has distributed thousands of similar parcels of land since coming to office in 2001.
The government is expected to distribute a further 200 lots before Christmas.