Hundreds of Barbadians over the years have fallen victim to a legal marauder.
And there has been little, if anything, that the average citizen can do about the legitimate intrusion.
They are often promised compensation but many have gone to the great beyond having received no compensation and with their heirs totally oblivious as to when that promise will be fulfilled.
Of course, we are talking about Government’s compulsory acquisition of private lands for the purpose of national advancement and development.
Under the 1949 Land Acquisition Act, Government has the right to acquire land compulsory for public good. In every instance that acquisition is basically done on a promise of compensation. We stand subject to correction, but we cannot recall a solitary instance where acquisition of private lands was followed by immediate or swift monetary compensation.
And therein rests a horror story for many law-abiding citizens.
We dare say that after the initial shock of receiving Government’s written notice of its intention, that the average citizen consoles himself or herself with the knowledge that at least the Government as an entity “has not stolen” the land and as an institution can be trusted to do what is right for the aggrieved or inconvenienced land owner.
That civic-minded citizen determines that the provision of housing, the widening or rehabilitation of the island’s road networks or the provision of some social amenity such as a school or hospital, are greater considerations than his or her own personal purpose.
But what has often occurred in Barbados is nothing short of a national disgrace.
A check with the relevant agency and with a number of long-suffering Barbadians shows that there are some among us who have had their land taken by the Government for the public purpose and are still waiting for compensation in excess of 20 years
In most instances there has been no communication from Government as to when settlement will be completed and there is generally no effective course of action for John Public to take.
It is to our knowledge that in many instances where compensation has been made by Government it has been done to the disadvantage of the land owner.
The land owner plays little or no part in the valuation of the land as compensation is based on market value of the land at the time of acquisition.
No consideration is given by Government to the future probability of the land being put to maximum, profitable developmental use.
This is an important issue for land owners who initially purchase land with the specific purpose of using it either for commercial, residential or agricultural prospects, then lose it to Government, and therefore lose out on the investment potential of their acquisitions.
Frequently landowners have their properties valued prior to the process but this is one exercise where the land owner has no final say on what he actually gets for what was once his land.
Though the act might give land owners the right to serve notice on Government to complete or abandon the acquisition if within three months after the Government takes over the property that acquisition has not been completed, this hardly occurs, and if notice is served, it is basically ineffectual. The Government has the authority to start the acquisition process over again.
It is amazing that the pros and cons of compulsory land acquisitions have never been a general election issue in our living memory.
Voters hardly put pressure on their representatives, and hence the Government, for much-needed reform to this act, especially as it relates to compensation.
We would be the first to agree that compulsory land acquisition legislation is an absolute necessity in any country, especially small developing nations.
We would also be adamant in stating that any Government that takes land from its citizens and then takes two decades to compensate them for that acquisition is not deserving of the respect of the people it rules.††