Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday that while the white paper on land registrations – announced in the House of Assembly more than a year and a half ago – is on the back burner he expects to begin reviewing current land laws by early 2020 in a move toward land reform.
“We’re not on that issue as yet. We’ve been rather focused of late on certainly financial matters and certainly after that hurricane-related matters. We’re looking to deal with some environmental legislation now and perhaps early into the new year,” Bethel said in an interview with Guardian Business.
“I have referred a suite of draft laws – about five of them that were generated around about 2010 and never went anywhere – to the Law Reform and Revision Commission for them to review, so that I can get some kind of a view of them, but it wouldn’t be until possibly early in the new year that we would start to look very closely at it.”
The implementation of a national system of land registration has been considered crucial to ending unresolved land title issues in The Bahamas, thereby modernizing and simplifying land-related issues. It is also considered a critical component of a sophisticated international financial center and would improve the ease of doing business in The Bahamas.
“You know land is a very emotional issue. Any attempt to bring rationality to it can often provoke irrational responses. And so, it’s not something that can be lightly entered into when you are dealing with reforming the property laws, so we’re treading very carefully on this,” Bethel said.
His comments come after developer and businessman Sir Franklyn Wilson earlier this week called for the government to bring about swifter land reform laws to safeguard against the “stealing” of property, particularly on storm-ravaged Abaco, that has been deserted by most residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
“Land claims are adjudicated in court and the burden of proof is quite high. There are some very technical rules that apply, coupled with an intention to possess and so it’s quite difficult you know,” Bethel said when asked about concerns about the stealing of property.
“Land issues, particularly in the Family Islands, can be very complex because of issues such as generation property and the quality of occupation being seasonal sometimes, sometimes intermittent, sometimes more permanent, but there are always these issues that apply, particularly in Family Islands and also in rural areas in New Providence. But there’s a place for these to be ventilated in court right now and even when we change the law or update the law, the place to ventilate these things will still be in court.”
Bethel said one of the proposed law reform bills under review calls for the appointment of a land commission, with suggestions that this could get rid of the Quieting Titles Act and also lessen the cost of adjudicating title disputes.
“But the difficulty as with all things is that everything depends on proof, marshalling evidence, obtaining witness statements, preparing rational presentations to place before whether it’s court or a tribunal. So there’s always going to be some cost involved and it’s going to be some issues with a tribunal, because people have the ability to appeal to a higher court,” he said.
“So, there are a number of issues, one is to get rid of the Quieting Titles Act. But what do you replace it with, how do you adjudicate in a cost-effective way? And so it’s a very complex matter right now.”