KINGSTON — Prime Minister Bruce Golding said Thursday (September 15) that his Government is looking at removing infrastructural limitations to land titling, as well as giving rural land owners access to non-agricultural loans under its new land titling programme – Land Access for National Development (LAND).
Mr. Golding said that more than 50 percent of some 800,000 parcels of land in Jamaica had no titles, and LAND is intended to speed up the titling process, as well as expand opportunities for the new landowners to use their titles to obtain funding for economic activities outside of agriculture.
"So much more could have been done, if we had been able to transform, to convert these assets that could be used both for the personal benefits of the families involved and for the development of the country as a whole," the Prime Minister lamented.
He was speaking at the launch of the new LAND project in Juan de Bolas, a rural village named after a maroon chief who made peace with English settlers and formed a colony in the St. Catherine hills in the 17th century. The project is a joint Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Local Government department and Ministry of Housing, Environment and Water effort.
Mr. Golding said that it is an effort by his Government to "correct a travesty of history" dating back to Emancipation, when rich landowners held on to flat lands and former slaves went into the mountains to settle.
"The issue of land ownership in Jamaica is something that punctuates our history as a people, over which fights have been waged, laws have been framed, and yet we still have not gotten it right" he said.
Mr. Golding labelled the issue "the insecurity of the security" which, he said, has continued to confront the country and deprive it of a potential for development, despite decades of efforts by successive Governments to address the issue.
"So much more could have been done, if we had been able to convert these assets into real capital," Mr. Golding noted.
"If I own that piece of land, why can't I get a title to say I own that piece of land," he argued, stating that infrastructure should only determine the value of the land. However, he said he understood the fear that Parish Councils could come under pressure to provide the infrastructure.
Mr. Golding said that while his Government inherited the Land Administration and Management Project (LAMP), it was confined to sections of St. Catherine, excluding Portmore. It has since been expanded into other parishes and new projects, including offering loans to farmers to pay for the cost of obtaining land titles, have already been added.
He said that the Government intended to continue using the loan facility, but wanted to take it a step further by allowing the landowners to use titles for commercial loans.
"I want this to be a facility where somebody can be assisted to get a title for his land and, having gotten that title, to be able to walk into a commercial bank and borrow money to do a development on the land that may not necessarily be agricultural," he said.
"So, rather than a strictly farming initiative, I want it to be a broad, general approach that help to empower people, through assets that can become transactable," he said.
He added that if the level of interest is significant enough, it would be submitted for multilateral funding for expansion.
Balford Henry, JIS Reporter & Editor