New Belmopan mayor, Ms. Sharon Palacio, announced on Plus TV with much fanfare in early June that her administration had acquired 100 acres of land five minutes away from Maya Mopan, the eastern-most section of Belmopan, and that the Belmopan City Council would be subdividing this acreage and making 400 lots available to persons who are desirous of building a home in that area. Ms. Palacio said that about 300 persons had already expressed interest in acquiring a lot in the new housing area, which they have dubbed, Inovabel.
Residential and business plots in Belmopan proper aren’t cheap. Ms. Palacio said the lots in Inovabel are being sold for $20,000, and that a parcel can be secured with a down payment of $2,000 and a commitment to pay $200 per month until the full purchase price is met.
Another project that has been in the news recently is Sagana Heights, which is being developed on a tract a few miles east of St. Matthew’s Village. One of the persons spearheading this project is Mr. Nigel Petillo, who gained much respect in Belize when a little over ten years ago he and his group identified and acquired a large abandoned parcel west of St. Matthew’s Village, which they named Harmonyville. The group subdivided the land into one-acre parcels, which they sold to Belizeans for around $1,500. One-acre plots at Sagana Heights aren’t that affordable. We understand they are being sold for $6,000, and a plot can be acquired with a $1,200 down payment and installments of $250 per month until the full price is paid.
Neither of these projects has utilities – no water running through pipes, no electricity poles a home owner can just run a line from, no telephone connection, no internet, and no cable television. That’s no problem, however, because entrepreneurs will come along — BTL, BWSL, BEL, and others — and the necessary utilities will be put in, in time. It is not impossible that the costs to put in these utilities will be subsidized by the government. Homeowners will pay for the services, monthly, and the entrepreneurs and their shareholders will cover their costs, and bank profits.
The new government in its Plan Belize manifesto promised to deliver residential and small farm plots to Belizean adults who don’t own any land, but Inovabel and Sagana Heights are pricey, out of the reach of most of our population who are landless. A critical factor about land is its location, and in respect to residential plots/small farm parcels, the present Belize government won’t find much publicly owned land close to major urban areas, where most people want to settle down because of the amenities and the work/business possibilities.
The reason the present government can’t find much land that fits the description most desire is because we inherited from our colonial masters a country where most of the prime land for residential purposes and for agriculture was under private ownership, and our leaders, except for some laudable work during the self-government years, not only did not sufficiently address the situation when they took office, but after independence they multiplied it by giving land to their favorites for speculative purposes.
When our leaders took over in 1964, the year we became a self-governing nation, it seemed that our country had unlimited land. In 1964 every Belizean could have owned 55 acres if our land was equally distributed, but in 2021 that has dwindled to 14 acres per Belizean. A considerable percentage of our land, it must be noted, is covered by water and mountains, and much of the 40% that is said to be suitable for agriculture remains under forest cover to protect absolutely vital watersheds.
To a great extent our land distribution system has been as myopic as the development of Belize City. In the case of Belize City, residential lots have been distributed primarily with an eye to maximize on the existing available utilities. Thus, we have areas in Belize City that don’t have green spaces, and areas where the people are so cramped together that each person’s business is everybody’s business.
In the case of land with great potential for farming or tourism projects (on the cayes/coast), much has been issued by our governments as gifts to party favorites. In modern Belize, new farmers work low- grade land while speculators control prime areas, and land at the cayes, on the coast, or in pristine forests are for sale to the foreigner with the highest bid.
Belizeans, especially those who don’t own any land, are waiting with bated breath to see how the present government will navigate through this difficult land problem we have, to deliver on its promise. The UDP, which sat in office between 2008 and 2020 and did little during most of those near thirteen years to address the problem, in a desperate move to win votes in the last general elections, found a way to acquire some land in prime areas. They did this by “stronging” leasehold parcels in such areas, which they subdivided and distributed to individuals who they felt were partial to their party, or could be won over.
In a continuation of its “new policy”, the UDP pledged in its 2020-2025 manifesto to identify national lands and acquire, where possible, “large unused tracts of land close to cities, towns and villages” for the purpose of subdividing these lands to provide house lots for Belizeans. The UDP said it would address a valuation system that gave large sums to landowners when government needed “to correct a mistake or acquire land in the public interest.”
The UDP recognized that the land “issue” had to be addressed, and in its manifesto it stated what it would do if elected again; however, because the party locked out all vision that didn’t emanate from its Cabinet, and spat on good governance practices, it could not be trusted with addressing land reform/acquisition without bias.
It will take a special effort to find a way to remedy this bad situation we inherited from our colonial bosses, and compounded.
Regular Belizeans can’t afford to buy privately owned land in easily accessed areas, not even in villages near to towns and the two cities, and they are in great need. Money that Belizeans should be putting into building their homes and investing in businesses is going toward the purchase of plots. It’s no easy task before the new government. For the good of all Belizeans it must find a way to deliver land to those who can’t afford what is available on the commercial market.