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Not the ministry! Establish central entity to manage land distribution

Not the ministry! Establish central entity to manage land distribution

A recent report submitted to the Governor’s Office has recommended that the Ministry of Natural Resources no longer receive applications for Crown land and for that responsibility to be transferred to an independent authority.
This recommendation was made in a document titled Virgin Islands Crown Lands Distribution Policy Review Report that was drafted in January 2023.

Under the constitution, the Minister of Natural Resources has responsibility for administering Crown lands. But, the review found that, unlike the several estate committees that exist to assist with land applications, “there is no written policy that the minister follows when awarding land.

For that reason, the report which was drafted by David Abednego, recommended that there be one central entity that is responsible for receiving and vetting applications for the use of Crown Land.

“It is recommended that a National Estate Committee be established which may be responsible for receiving and vetting applications for the use of Crown lands. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour will no longer directly receive applications for the use of residential land and commercial lease arrangements. The proposed Committee, with the exception of the Anegada Advisory Lands Committee, will take the place of the various individual land committees [that currently exist].

The proposed Committee will interact directly with another proposed body — the Crown Land Authority — to support the land disposal decision-making process, the report stated.

It further explained that the proposed Crown Land Authority would monitor, control and manage the disposal process of Crown land.

“This new body would takeover the function and duties of Wickham’s Cay Development Authority and be empowered with a wider mandate. It is important to state that the Authority would not have ownership of Crown land but instead, it would have the responsibility for monitoring, controlling and managing,” the report explained.

The reported added that, with a view to ensure the protection of Crown land, the Crown Land Authority should be empowered with enforcement powers and these powers should be exercised by designated officers of the Authority.

The report said the Authority would, therefore, be required to have established systems such as a strict schedule for the monitoring of compliance as it relates to payments, usage, and development of Crown land within a prescribed timeline.

Other enforcement systems should include policies preventing resale (flipping) etc., with clear penalties for lack of compliance; forfeiture procedures where an applicant fails to develop within an allotted period; implementation of a buy-back clause where the awardee is seeking to sell his/her awarded land; and instituting a penalty of one to 2.5 percent if persons sell within a specified time frame after being awarded.

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