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GoB on the hook for near $10 million for land compensation

HeadlineGoB on the hook for near $10 million for land compensation

Photo: (l-r) Dion Zabaneh and Primrose Gabourel

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 27, 2024

A land compensation case just concluded at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) this week puts the government on the hook for almost BZ$10 million. The compensation is for $4,545,325, but what takes it up to that almost 10 million figure is interest to be paid from February 3, 2007. Additionally, the Government has been ordered to reimburse the respondent, Primrose Gabourel, some $300,000 in lost landfill.

Gabourel was represented by Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, Hector Guerra and Mikhail Arguelles, while Samantha Matute represented the Government as the appellant. The parties were in court on June 26 for the delivery of the judgment which was read by Justice Denys Barrow who authored it.

The case dates back to 2006 when the Department of the Environment (DOE) moved to issue a stop order as Gabourel and her son, Dion Zabaneh, started filling the seabed property (parcel 4670) off Sea Shore Drive in Buttonwood Bay, Belize City. The DOE claimed that Gabourel had not signed an environmental compliance plan for her proposed construction of two tower residences for rental income. The Government then compulsorily acquired the lot containing 1.35 acres on February 3, 2007, but Gabourel would not discover this until 2019, because the stop order was making its way through the court for determination. The DOE had sought an injunction which was not discharged until 2016.

Once Gabourel learned of the compulsory acquisition, she took the matter to court in a claim filed on December 13, 2019. She sought damages for breach of her right not to be unlawfully deprived of property, special damages for loss of opportunity for a planned development of the property, loss of landfill, and legal fees.

At the Supreme Court, Justice Michelle Arana ordered on February 28, 2020, that Gabourel be paid fair compensation, expenses and for lost landfill. The matter was remitted to Justice James for the determination of whose valuation would be accepted. Justice James sided with the Government which had proposed a valuation of BZ$1,050,000 and he also awarded $150,000 in nominal damages regarding lost development value, as well as $300,000 for lost landfill and interest. Gabourel had submitted a valuation for some $8.5 million as of February 21, 2019.

However, the CCJ has pointed out that the respondent’s valuer “… arrived at a value as of 2006 of BZD4,545,325.” Separately, Gabourel had submitted a figure of $12,855,700 for lost development value over a 10-year period. However, Justice James at the High Court decided to award only nominal damages for lost development value, and the Court of Appeal remitted that for re-evaluation at the High Court, finding that there should be an appropriate amount considering fair market value and not just nominal value.

When Gabourel appealed to the Court of Appeal, that court determined that an expert valuer was to be appointed to determine the fair market value for the parcel, which the Government had not done. The Government took the matter to Belize’s Apex Court, asking that the CCJ restore the decision of the High Court. However, the CCJ instead ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources to pay compensation of $4.5 million. It found the Government’s valuation to be unreliable, since it did not include the development value or potential of the property as a contributing factor to the value of land. Additionally, the Government’s valuer did not include the annual increase in the value of the acquired land. Costs were also awarded to Gabourel. The Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Cordel Hyde has expressed great dismay at the CCJ judgment.

(AMANDALA Ed. Note: We share the dismay of the honourable minister. It’s always our government paying big for land issues. When will it be the other way around, when government/the people can collect millions from those who speculate with our land? Well, not too long ago, we had that opportunity. However, the headline of an Amandala story dated August 21, 2019, said that then prime minister “Barrow gives away $90 million…”, referring to an announcement in the House that the then P.M. had found it prudent to write off 90 million dollars that was owed to government by large landowners who had fallen behind in paying the government their land tax.)

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