BELMOPAN, Mon. Apr. 26, 2021– During his speech at Friday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Cordel Hyde, gave a stark warning to landowners who owe the government large amounts of money due to non-payment of land taxes.
“Pay your taxes, or we will take back your land!” he said.
Hon. Hyde, who is the Minister of Natural Resources, said that he and those in his ministry aim to right a historical wrong in Belize. He noted that the common man has never had access to Belizean land, which is a part of the birthright of all Belizean citizens. Hyde stressed that this has to change, and current landowners will have to pay their debt to the government or risk losing their tracts of land.
“There has been a problem in this country for far too long. Land has been the domain of the elite. Fifty years ago, foreigners owned 90% of the privately-owned land in this country. Ten years ago, 464 persons or companies owned 82% of the privately owned land in this country — a total of 3.2 million acres. 464 persons or companies owned 3.2 million acres. Can you wrap your mind around that?” Hyde exclaimed.
He remarked that over the last 13 years this inequality within the country has gotten worse.
“What’s worse is that these people refuse to pay their taxes. Simply refuse. They rack up massive outstanding land taxes, and all the last government did was sit back and wait for them to come to pay. A mere dollar per acre is what the government collected in property tax each year. We have 5.7 million acres of land in this country, and the Government collects $5.8 million in property taxes each year,” Hon. Hyde revealed.
During the 13 years of the UDP’s Barrow administration, four land tax write-offs were approved, climaxing with the 90 million tax write-off in 2019, Hyde pointed out. He then said that this hemorrhaging of public finances of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars is a primary reason for the dire economic realities the country is currently facing.
“This cannot be left to stand. Truth is, if the wealthy were paying their fair share of taxes, we wouldn’t be here today. If the tax dodgers were paying their fair share, we wouldn’t be here. We have to go after these tax delinquents, go after these tax delinquents with every vigor in our body, no matter who they are,” said Hyde.
He highlighted the fact that a large amount of the land within the country is “frozen” due to private ownership. Many of these lands are left unkept and are unproductive lands that can be distributed to landless citizens, he said.
“Such a huge portion of land can be frozen and these people not pay any taxes. That has to stop. You either pay, or we take back your land. We have too many people in our country who are landless. This is an opportunity to right a historical wrong,” Deputy PM Hyde remarked.
He said that his ministry is currently in the process of upgrading the debt management team so that it can start the task of collecting these taxes from the delinquent landowners. His ministry is also in the process of a full revamping to become a better functioning arm of the government, according to Hyde.
‘It’s not an overnight process, and in some areas, the progress has been slow in coming, but we are committed to making sure that the Ministry sheds this moniker as the hotbed of corruption,” Hon. Hyde said.