The issue of land squatting is a national concern and has become even more pronounced in Belmopan, Cayo District. Mayor Khalid Belisle of the Belmopan City Council commented, saying, quote, “The Belmopan City Council continues to have a zero tolerance policy on squatting in the city. We are actively fighting one squatting situation in court presently as we attempt to get that rectified and will continue to fight every occurrence of squatting which is encountered. As new squatters are discovered or brought to the Council’s attention we seek to partner with the relevant authorities including the Police Department, our sister body RECONDEV, and when necessary the Immigration Department among others to have the squatters removed in a peaceful and humane manner with every attempt at preserving whatever materials had been used in any construction completed.” End of quote. While the Council is observing the movements of the squatters, the authorities at the Lands Department have also been paying attention. According to Minister of Natural Resources, Godwin Hulse, it is an issue that is being addressed as he has recently held meetings with land personnel not only from Belmopan but the other districts as well.
“When I was minister of Local Government in the last term that complaint did come the City Council of Belmopan as well and the City Council has jurisdiction of course over the city here but the Lands Department still continues and the Reconstruction and Development Cooperation has to be in the mix because they are also the ones who hold the lands in trust. There are few parcels that are still under the Ministry of Natural Resources but for the majority the lands are under the Reconstruction and Development Cooperation. The position is very clear, nobody in this country, not a citizen has any right to occupy any public land, that is not possible legally and os people who quat must understand that they can and a will be removed from these areas compassion aside because it is proliferating, there are a lot of people who now think that all you have to do is sit on a parcel of land and eventually it’s going to become yours. We have just sat down to try to set in some procedures to deal with these things. We’ve had meetings with our national estate officers in the districts and they are responsible for the various districts to begin to address this actively and we are still in the throws of trying to redo some of the departments to give proper strength and support both material and personnel to the inspection department, complaints departments so that we can get out there and deal with these things. We are also undertaking the whole national public lands survey and as you know there are some areas that have been declared which have been surveyed and then there are some areas that have not been declared. We have to complete that exercise so we really know where public lands are and are able then to say to people that cannot happen and you can’t go there without the permission from the Ministry.
Another issue being addressed by the Lands Department is the disposal of national lands which Minister Hulse says has been noted in southern Belize. Just last week, a release dated March 23 was sent out warning all persons engaging in the sale and acquisition of national lands illegally.
“Last week this Ministry sent out a release with respect to lands in Stann Creek, Cow Pen and San Juan and those areas also where we had complaints of persons who are not only squatting but persons who are undertaking to measure off public lands with pieces of rope and even selling it to unsuspecting people. The press release is to say to those people “don’t engage in that because it’s only the Ministry of Lands and the Minister who can sign such an authority which is permission to use and occupy public lands and I want to make it clear; the question of leases and all of that is a legal term but the principle is that there is permission given to an individual after a parcel has been properly demarked, permission is given to use and occupy it temporarily, that is a lease and an agreement between the state and yourself and it has some conditions. Having fulfil those conditions you must also apply for permission to occupy it permanently now, that is called your title, it is also subject to conditions: land tax being paid, the fact that you can’t just subdivide it, the fact that you can’t dig wells without permission, you can’t cut trees etc. even on these parcels that people say that those are their titled land. The whole concept is around permission from the state to do that. So if the state does not give you permission to do any of those two things you just simply cannot do it.”
According to the four paragraph release, it has been brought to the ministry’s attention that national lands in the areas of Cowpen, San Juan and Santa Cruz in the Stann Creek District are being disposed of without the consent and approval of the Minister responsible for the administration of lands. The release went on to warn that such transactions are deemed as offences under the National Lands Act. Meanwhile, in the Mayor Belisle’s statement to Love News, he has asked the public’s cooperation and continued patience as they attempt to provide a parcel of land to each applicant using the proper process for doing so. He added that squatting remains illegal and as such Belmopan will continue to be intolerant of the practice and asks the public to kindly refrain from attempting to claim land to which they are not legally entitled.