Plus news has been following a story about a land controversy in the village of Ranchito, which is situated in the Corozal district. As we told you, in 2007, the Village Council surveyed and distributed 216 lots in accordance with the Village Council Act. They collected fees and sent letters of recommendations to the Lands Department for official processing but a Hurricane and congestion at the Lands department hindered the processing of the land documents. But by 2008, the new UDP led Government came into office and placed a moratorium on land; leaving the 216 villagers without land documents. By 2009, GOB had appointed a new lots committee in Ranchito village, in contravention of the Village Council Act which gives that power to the Village Council. That new committee then cancelled almost all of the assigned applicants. When we returned to the village last week; that’s one year later, we were informed that Government’s redistribution of several parcels within the three subdivisions to new individuals has created even more confusion and ill-will within the community. One Ranchito resident we spoke to said that after acquiring the land from the village council and paying for it, she has been cleaning it for the past six years. Now, someone else, from Corozal town, claims ownership to the land, and has sold it to a third person who is now starting to build on the land. The village council decided to take the matter to Court, hoping that precedence can be set as it relates to the Authority that village councils have to distribute lands; regardless of what government is in power. And we learned the details of that case this morning, when Attorney Arthur Saldivar, called in to Rise and Shine.
Arthur Saldivar – Attorney:
Originally when the matter came to Magistrates Court, I was called into it, and the Magistrate was very decisive and understanding of the Village council Act and the process. Now the magistrate has no jurisdiction over land ownership and land matters in that regard, but where he could have seen that the person from the village had possession of the portion and legal claim, he could have looked at what the other party was doing as trespass. He basically made a judgement on the basis of the trespass. Now subsequently the other party has decided that they’re going to use their connections to go to Supreme Court, to try to have the Supreme court enforce a title that they got after they went through the Magistrates Court, because when they went to Magistrates Court they had no title, but now they have a title to the property. After knowing what the magistrates Court had ordered in relation to trespass they went and used their connections to get a title.
As you heard Saldivar mention, the Corozal resident managed to obtain a title for the land, but he says the resident is now taking the matter to the Supreme Court, to have the villager removed from the property altogether.
Arthur Saldivar – Attorney:
The other party, the lady who had gone originally, who was trespassing, is now taking it to the Supreme Court to have villager from Ranchito be removed. They want that person to be removed completely from the land. Now this young man holds a document, the recommendation, the application to leave all that was done prior to the change of Government. They have letters of recommendation and letters written to the Lands Officer, subsequent to the election letters written to Gaspa Vega and other persons within the Ministry, but no response.
Mr Rancharan has been very diligent in writing letters and trying to get some understanding from the Ministry, as to how they’re going to move forward in respecting the rights of the people of Ranchito to the lots that were distributed, but no reply.
The verdict is expected in May of this year and we will continue to update you on that judgment and the implications to village council lands across the nation. But while that case will play out in the courts, there are preventative measures for Village Councils to consider, as it relates to land development and protecting their land rights. PUP Deputy Leader Carolyn Trench Standiford also called into this morning’s show and shared how Section 47 of the Law, provides for this. She also reiterated that the recently formed Belize Association of planners intends to aid Village Council in preparing their development plans.
Carolyn Trench-Sandiford – PUP Deputy Leader:
That Section 47 does two things which I think are very important. The first one is: it says that the Community Council has certain privileges and duties, with respect to lands within their village. And what it also says in sub-section A is: a map showing the lands in the village and their distribution shall, not may, shall be delivered to the Council by the Ministry responsible for Lands, and the Council shall be informed by the Ministry in a timely manner of any changes or intended changes. This map is very important. If you don’t have a map to your village, then the Minister can say, “Well, is this land that I’m dealing with really a part of the village?” And this is why we, the Belize Association of Planners, want to be part of the discussion, encouraging Village Councils to prepare development plans, to prepare plans that clearly show this is where my village is, and this is where we want to take our village, this is our population growth, and these are the lands that we’re going to need for housing, for recreation, for agriculture, whatever.