St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has amended its land holding law to narrow the categories of people who can own land in the 150-square-mile archipelago without needing to obtain a licence.
The amendment to the Aliens (Land Holding Regulations) (Amendment) Bill, 2022 deletes two of the classes of persons who were prescribed as belonging to the country under that law.
The changes, which Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves presented to Parliament, deleted a section of the law that said that for the purpose of the act, a person shall be regarded as belonging to SVG, if he is a Commonwealth citizen who is domiciled in SVG and has been ordinarily resident therein for not less than seven years.
With the amendment, such a person has to apply for an alien landholding license.
The revised law also said that a child, stepchild, or adopted child of a Commonwealth citizen or the spouse of a Commonwealth citizen will have to apply for an alien land holding licence.
However, the child, stepchild or adopted child of a Vincentian citizen would not have to apply.
“What we’re doing here, in effect, is to narrow the range of exemptions so that you will have to have an alien landholding license if you want to hold property,” the prime minister said.
He noted that the Alien Landholding Regulation Declaration of Commonwealth Caribbean Territories Order of 2004 said the Governor General declares that persons who belong to the territories listed in the schedule will not be aliens for the purposes of the Alien Land Holding Regulation Act, provided there is reciprocity between the territory and SVG.
The schedule listed all the countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, namely Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia.
“St. Lucia, for instance, has (reciprocity) so that this inclusion would not be considered an alien,” the prime minister said.
He, however, noted that in 2004, the order was further amended to say that the provision shall not apply in respect of people who have obtained citizenship under an economic citizenship programme.
“… because we don’t recognise that for the purposes of our alien landholding licence,” said Gonsalves, whose Unity Labour Party government is opposed to citizenship by investment programmes.
“… we consider that the category the Commonwealth citizen, who is domiciled here and resident in St. Vincent for seven years, that if that person wants to take advantage of the alien land holding license exemption that they become a citizen of St. Vincent and Grenadines, simple,” he said.
The prime minister said the provision remains for children of citizens of SVG, once the child is less than 18 years old, even if the child was born elsewhere.
“At birth, you’re a citizen of St. Vincent and Grenadines, once you’re a national of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who was born a citizen,” the prime minister said.
He noted that the Commonwealth has 56 countries, adding, “some of them, other than being part of the Commonwealth, we really don’t have any particular set of connections with one another.
“And we have limited land. And we feel that if you’re coming to buy our land, you should have the alien landholding licence.”
The prime minister further noted that the law makes it plain that “on breach of any condition in a licence to hold land as owner, tenant or mortgagee, the estate and interest of the alien in the land or mortgage held under the authority therein shall thereupon be forfeited to the Crown”.
He said his government has always read “thereupon be forfeited to the Crown” as has being, “liable to forfeiture”.
The prime minister spoke of the contribution of Alien Landholding Licences to the national coffers.
He said in 2022, the government collected close to EC$100 million in alien land holding licence and stamp duty transfers on property. In 2020, the figure was EC$22.6 million.
“It’s a significant revenue earner,” he said, noting that his government has increased the cost of an alien land holding licence twice since coming to office in March 2001, “so that the effect at the high end is about 7%”.
The prime minister said he believes that the amendments “hold the support of the people of this country. I sense that I know this instinctively.
“And this doesn’t have anything deleterious to our economic development. On the contrary, it allows us to have a closer handle on those who will buy large properties, who are not nationals of our country and seek to speculate on them.”
Gonsalves noted that the country does not have capital gains tax, adding that under the old law, a Commonwealth citizen could have speculated on property.
“We need to protect our limited land. And while we offer it to persons who are not Vincentians it should be on terms and conditions where they develop that land in accordance with the provisions of the licence.”
The prime minister said that if he had his way, the law would come into immediate effect, but his colleagues had persuaded him, and it would come into effect 90 days after being gazetted.
“… personally, I feel so strongly about this thing that I had my way alone, and let it come into being as soon as it is published because on this matter, I’m a strong nationalist,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, in his contribution to the debate, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, a lawyer, said that he used to practise in the area quite a bit.
“I was very familiar with the legislation and all the changes that have taken place, and that were taking place after that…” Friday said, adding that the rates that were charged on the licence and so forth had been adjusted and various arguments were made.
“And I expect the same will continue depending on policy priorities of the government of the day. And certainly, the changes that are made here, create more work for lawyers, and possibly more revenue for the government,” he said.
Friday said he expects that “those things would be monitored”, adding that he supports the law coming into effect 90 days after it is gazetted.
“But that’s up to the government to do so that people who are making decisions already well in train have some sense of time to make whatever adjustment they want to do,” he said, adding that he thinks it would be fair.
I would like to hear other arguments on this. It’s a good thing but it needs to be looked at closer. It is our birthright they talking about.
Is this policy to facilitate the large number of Cubans and Venezuelans to own lands in SVG so they csn vote in elections.
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