JIS News

Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Robert Montague, has said that the Government will be taking several steps to increase the number of legitimate owners of land on the property tax register. This comes in the wake of the recent announcement that parish councils are to receive all property taxes as of January 1, 2008.
The Minister of State, who has responsibility for Local Government, said this is in the hope that having more identifiable land owners will result in an improved level of property tax compliance, thereby making it unnecessary to increase the rate of the tax. The move is also expected to make it possible for the parish councils to better manage their increased responsibilities, which will include solid waste management and paying for street lighting. Mr. Montague, who was addressing a recent JIS Think Tank, emphasized that the Government is not seeking to increase the rate of property tax as such a move will punish those who are compliant. Outlining measures that will be employed to increase compliance he said: “There is a proposal for community tribunals to go into communities to verify [land] ownership as there are a lot of Jamaicans, who occupy land yet they have no formal access to the land, or as rural Jamaicans say, the paper that they have can’t go to law.”
Elaborating on the proposed process to verify land ownership, Minister Montague said: “The community tribunal will take submissions from the community to verify that the occupant of the land has some legitimacy to the land and then there will be a period where persons may object or make their own submission because somebody may have a title to that bit of land.” He pointed out that once the allowed time has elapsed, a recommendation will be made to the Commissioner of Lands and from that point the normal procedures in generating a title will apply. More persons will be able to have titles and be able to pay property taxes as a result of this initiative, the State Minister pointed out. Legislative changes are also being considered to enable the government to take possession of lands for which no property tax is being paid. “We are also looking at amending the Quit Rents Act that says that if you occupy premises undisturbed for a certain period you may make an application to the courts to possess this property by adverse possession,” Mr. Montague disclosed. He further explained that: “It is our view that the Government, through the Ministry of Finance, is actually paying the taxes for this bit of land and therefore the Government ought to, through the courts, apply for adverse possession of these parcels of land that persons are occupying but refuse to pay property taxes for.” He expressed the hope that persons who are civic minded, will begin to fulfill their civic responsibility by paying property taxes. Outlining other plans to improve property tax collection, Mr. Montague said there will be a programme of public education to encourage persons to pay property taxes. The issue of tax collection points will also be addressed by the Government through the rationalization of the number of collection locations islandwide.