On Thursday, despite objections by all Opposition members of Parliament, the PPP passed the Title to Land (Prescription and Limitation) (Amendment) Bill 2011. According to PNC/R Member of Parliament Amna Ally, only the day before the Bill was passed that the Leader of the Opposition had written to both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General requesting that the second reading of the Bill be deferred for a period of at least two weeks.
Ally said that Members of Parliament were only privy to the intention of the Government one week ago, when the Bill was circulated and read for the first time at the Sitting of the National Assembly on March 3, last.
Ally said that her Party was neither briefed by the Government, nor is it aware of the reason for this Bill being treated with such urgency by the PPP.
“The far reaching effects of the proposed amendments, particularly, as it affects the rights of our citizens motivated the PNCR to engage in consultations with stakeholders”.
Ally said these consultations could not be concluded by March 10, hence the letters from the Leader of the Opposition.
She noted that in the PPP usual style of only lip-service to consultation, the Prime Minister in a one-sentence response stated that the PPP could not entertain the request.
“It is now evident that one of the motivations of this Bill was to deprive citizens, who may have acquired rights from obtaining Title of Ownership of those State lands”. Ally went on to explain that under the present Law, undisturbed occupation of State lands for thirty years would have entitled citizens to apply for prescriptive Title of the said State lands.
With the new law, Ally said this right has now been arbitrarily removed.
“No provision has been made in the Law to deal with those persons who may have already accumulated that right after completing more than thirty years of undisturbed occupation. Consequently, it is questionable whether those persons’ constitutional right under Article 142 has not been infringed”.
Ally stated that Article 142 guarantees that “no property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of, and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired, except by or under the authority of a written law and where provision applying to that taking of possession or acquisition is made by a written law requiring the prompt payment of adequate compensation”
“Both the PNCR Speakers on this Bill, Ms. Deborah Backer and Ms. Clarissa Riehl, illustrated the grave implications and negative consequences of this Bill in the Parliament.”
Ally recalled that in Parliament on Thursday, Ms. Backer noted that the present “oppressive” amendment increases the already weighted power of the Government. The State and any other citizen could prescribe against private land after only 12 years undisturbed occupation but the citizen could no longer prescribe against the State even after thirty years.
Ally added that the constitutionality of this Bill is certain to be challenged and is certainly destined for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
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