Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Joseph Smith-Abbott, has described the process for Virgin Islanders to attain land ownership as somewhat complex.
The PS gave that indication when he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) yesterday, October 14 to address issues of how the government deals with the allocation and distribution of Crown lands.
Smith-Abbott said land is essentially a valuable and finite asset, therefore, the number of individuals that would likely request or need land far exceeds the land that is actually available.
This meant that significant care and consideration needed to be applied to how available lands would be publicised for ownership in a transparent manner, the PS explained.
“How do you ensure that there is some transparency and equity and fairness in the disposal of that land, given the fact that, as you rightly pointed out, it is not as straightforward?” Smith-Abbott asked.
He told the commission that the government’s policy is one that essentially seeks to increase the stake of home and land ownership in the territory.
In this context, Smith-Abbott said, there is a recognition that state and advisory committees have an important role to play in terms of opening up the process.
Even in instances when a committee might not be in place, he added, there may be reason for some consideration to be given to reestablishment of such a committee.
Guidelines on how to apple for Crown lands
He told the commission that it is ultimately the government’s intent to produce internal guidelines that will dictate how applications for Crown lands are to be processed and considered.
The PS, however, cautioned that the road towards the establishment of these guidelines would be lengthy, and may not necessarily be something that can be defined within a year.
Considerations also needed to be made for public goods and services such as Crown lands for schools, health facilities, and roads, etcetera, Smith Abbott said.
“Those public goods and services have a legitimate place and expectation and they have to be met,“ he stated.
Lands not being sold to the highest bidder
Meanwhile, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom, said guidelines that suggested selling residential land to the highest bidder would be relatively straightforward, but this was clearly not the case with the government’s policy.
He said for understandable reasons, the policy was not to sell land to the highest bidder, but was instead to sell land to Belongers at a price that they could afford.
Sir Gary said it required a lot of thinking and consultation to bring everything out.
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