DANGRIGA, Thurs. Jan. 14, 2021– In its 2020-2025 manifesto, the People’s United Party (PUP) promised to deliver house lots and farm plots to Belizeans who don’t own any land, and within the first 100 days of its victory, the party has set about making good on that tall task. No government has embarked on such an ambitious program since self-government days, and this effort is especially daunting because it comes at a time when most of the lands in urban areas and the prime farm lands have already been taken, much of it gobbled up by land speculators and absentee landlords.
In his presentation in the House of Representatives on January 8, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Petroleum and Mining, Hon. Cordel Hyde, told the nation that his department is aware of the situation, but the Briceño government would not be taking away land from their owners to fulfill their promise. Hyde said that new landowners would have to go a little distance from home to get their piece of land.
Judging from the turnout in Dangriga on Thursday, January 14, at the Mobile Land Outreach held at the offices of the Dangriga Town Council by the Hon. Cordel Hyde, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Petroleum and Mining, and the Department of Lands and Surveys, the people of Dangriga and areas surrounding it don’t much mind where it is; they just want a piece of land to call their own.
Reports are that hundreds of Belizeans came out to put in their applications, or to address other land matters. Reports are that the crowd was so large that the police had to intervene to ensure that all of the persons were adhering to the Covid-19 safety protocols, which the team had called on citizens to observe before they embarked on the exercise.
Further along in his presentation in the House of Representatives, Hon. Hyde had said they would be considering the purchase of land, or land swaps, to meet the needs of the people. He said that there was some land available in the villages near to Dangriga, and those areas would be among the first to be delivered to first-time landowners.
The Mobile Land Outreach couldn’t serve the hundreds of persons who showed up. A small group — of between 150 and 175 persons— were able to have their applications and concerns addressed, but the new government says that the team will be returning to the area until all the citizens’ needs have been met. The government has said that the Mobile Land Outreach will be taken to all districts so that Hon. Hyde and his team can meet residents all over the country
One particular source of lands for the people that the new government might be looking at would be lands whose owners have been delinquent in paying their taxes for a long period of time. In the House of Representatives on Friday, August 16, 2019, Hon. Hyde, then a member of the minority side in the House, had scolded the Barrow government for not pursuing $90 million in land taxes owed by mostly large landowners.
The following is a report on Hon. Hyde’s comments on the matter, taken from the Tuesday, August 21, 2019 issue of the Amandala:
Hon. Hyde told the House, “This bill here has some benefits for small people, but far more benefits for big people. It’s the big land owners in this country who have not been paying their taxes, who have just sat back and waited for these land tax amnesties.
“This is the third time the government is doing it since 2010. They did it in 2010; I think 2013, and now 2019. At the last meeting when the Prime Minister first tabled this bill, he said that there was some ninety million dollars outstanding in taxes, land taxes.
“Of that ninety million, thirty big land owners owe half of that amount. Thirty big land owners owe forty-four million dollars. Thirty big land owners own a combined five hundred thousand acres of land. That’s an average of fifteen thousand acres per person.
“You see what I’m talking about. Some of these big land owners own eighty thousand acres, seventy-six thousand acres, thirty-thousand acres, and then we have a situation where ordinary persons in this country, in Belize City, can’t get a fifty [feet] by seventy-five [feet] lot.
“It’s a very sweet deal because all they [these big landowners] do is wait for the land tax amnesty, and then they get a waiver on the interest, twenty-five percent break on the principal. The small man can’t get a fifty by seventy-five, and when he does get a fifty by seventy-five piece of swamp, if he doesn’t pay his taxes or develop that swamp in three years, ih get tek weh, you know. Tek weh [taken away]!”
“At the end of the day, this government has done nothing to try to collect the taxes every year, as opposed to just sitting back and waiting for it to accumulate and then come with a land tax amnesty. They’ve done nothing. This is an excellent opportunity to reacquire land in lieu of taxes owed, but you [the government] refuse to do that,” stated Hon. Hyde.