October 16, 2017
Mr. Evan X Hyde
Land is a very important natural resource. The Mayas, like Africans, believed that the land belonged to the entire community, not to individuals. But the Europeans believed land was private property that would be bought and sold at any time. With colonization the European system of land ownership was brought to Belize. A small class of rich, absentee landlords developed. This system resulted in the growth of private wealth alongside widespread poverty while rich resources lay unused. (A History of Belize: Nation in the Making)
During the years of slavery, about 12 families owned almost all of the private land in the settlement. After the abolition of slavery, the population still could not own land. The most important effect of the monopolization of land was that the power to make decisions depended on ownership of land, since only those who owned land could vote.
In 1814, Superintendent George Arthur came to Belize. He tried to stop the monopoly of land ownership but was unsuccessful. He succeeded to give “the Crown “(the British monarchy) the sole rights to all unclaimed land. Today we know these lands as government lands. For almost 50 years, British settlers had taken large areas of land for free. Land was denied to free slaves since it was sold for one pound sterling per acre and slaves, did not have that kind of money. The Crown Lands Ordinance of 1872 established Mayan and Garifuna reserves of land. So this prevented Belizean Maya and Garifuna from owning land as their private property.
The mahogany landowners kept their power over the land until the middle of the 20th Century. A 1971 study showed that 3% of the landowners held 95% of the land and only 1% in small plots. This study also showed 90% of the freehold land was owned by foreigners. (History of Belize: Nation in the Making) In 1962, a new law was formed to give people rights over the land they lived on. By the 1947 Land Acquisition Ordinance, the government could buy land from the big landowners and redistribute to the people. From 1975 to 1982, 525,000 acres of land were distributed.
Today acquiring land in Belize is one of the lengthiest processes for Belizeans. After filling out an application form it may take nothing less than two years for one to get a response. Why is this so? There are land departments in every district town. These are staffed with several land officers. Is micro-management plaguing the various land departments? Forget about going to the land office in Belmopan because the officers there will send you right back to your district town office.
I know of a friend who applied for a house lot in his village. After filling out the form, he was told that he had to wait for the evaluators from Belmopan to come and inspect the lot. This happened two years ago. My friend is still waiting. Why can’t land officers in every district visit and evaluate the land that people apply for? What is the process that takes place when a land application reaches Belmopan? Perhaps it is time for a new system to be implemented in order to improve the service to the people. This issue also demotivates me to want to apply for a plot of land.
Mr Commissioner of Lands, kindly educate us on how to get a piece of the jewel to build our homes. How can you expedite the process to let’s say three months? Let us know, please.
Roberto Carlos Hoare, Jr.
Public Administration and Policy Student,
University of Belize