T&T gov’t to spend billions on land for landless

(Trinidad Express) Land for so.

Government yesterday unveiled a billion-dollar-a-year “land for the landless’’ programme aimed at distributing 3,000 to 4,000 serviced lots each year for four years to qualifying nationals.

Minister of State Lands Jairam Seemungal, in making the announcement at the post-Cabinet news conference, also revealed that “land for the landless’’ has been redefined to include those persons making as much as $30,000 a month. The original income ceiling was $10,000 a month.

“We are looking at this entire exercise and the amount of land that we are looking at (distributing),…The investment (would be) of at least close to $1 billion per year… because under the programme we want to target 3,000 to 4,000 lots per year,” he said .

The announcement is coming on the heels of Government’s disclosure that it would be distributing 100 Housing Development Corporation (HDC) units each week from now till December.

In response to questions, however, Seemungal said this was no electioneering gimmick. “This has nothing to do with election gimmick because the time-frame is between now and four years,” he said.

He said the Government was merely trying to expand the programme to help the middle-income persons, who under the previous arrangement were “eliminated”.

Persons such as “young entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors and persons employed by the State whose salaries are over $10,000” were now entitled to the subsidised programme, granted that their household is no more that $30,000 a month, he said.

Right now there are fully developed lots in Chaguanas but they are valued at $600,000, he said. “That is why we are expanding the programme to allow those making more money to qualify…because we have found that close to 60 per cent of the applicants are from this ($30,000 a month) category.

He outlined how the State would subsidise the costs:

  1. Lands valued up to $250,000 — up to 80 per cent.
  1. Lands valued at between $250,000 and $300,000 — up to 70 per cent.
  1. Lands valued at between $300,000 and $350,000 — 50 per cent.
  1. Lands over $350,000 — 30 per cent.

He said this would ensure that the State recovers the “full cost of construction for the development of these sites and the excess in the lands over $350,000 would be used to meet the infrastructure development costs of the land that are valued at a lower cost”.

But Seemungal stated in order to avoid speculation where persons buy such lots and sell them at a premium, the deed for such lots would stipulate these lands cannot be sold and could only pass by will to one’s children. It would be “land for life”, he stressed.

“Even if someone else tries to buy the land, they would not be able to acquire any proper documentation for these lands,” he said.

Citing the fact that the Fraud Squad was currently investigating ‘’land grabbers’’ who in the past had taken State Lands and ‘’sold’’ it, Seemungal said Government wanted to prevent any profiteering by unscrupulous persons in this Land for Landless programme.

Persons benefiting from the programme must also own no other property, he said.

Funding to be sourced from private sector

Seemungal also explained the funding for the infrastructural development of the land would be sourced from the private sector. He said private contractors would be short-listed by the Land Settlement Agency and would tender for the projects. “And it would be up to the evaluation team to determine which ones have the best designs and the best fit to develop the particular sites,” he said.

“The Land Settlement Agency will enter into an agreement with successful companies. The companies will provide 100 per cent funding for the development and the sites. The Commissioner of Valuation would determine the market price for the lots to be sold and the Land Settlement Agency would be responsible for the sale of the developed lots under the Land for the Landless programme,” he said.

Seemungal said during the four years that the lands are being developed, the private companies involved would be paid, “in addition to the cost of the contract, interest on the money spent on a reducing balance based on negotiated rates at lending rates of the current banking system”.

Asked about the potential for corruption in the new arrangement, he said he was confident that the public servants were capable of handling the programme. “The issue of corruption is something everyone tries to use for elections, whether it (the allegation of corruption) sticks or not, is something for the electorate to decide,” he said.

The Land for the Landless programme, was launched in 2012. But Seemungal said the Land Settlement Agency had to ensure it got the necessary approvals which included Town and Country Planning, EMA, T&TEC, Highway Division, Drainage Division and other statutory approvals before the lots could become available.

The first ceremony for the issuing of leases will be held on March 25. He said to date there are 60,000 applications under this programme and 23,000 applications under the Squatter Regularisation Programme. (All numbers in T&T currency)


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