By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Attorney at law Loraine Glace has questioned the compulsory acquisition of private property by the government of Saint Lucia for the purposes of “touristic development”.
”What is that… Touristic development?” Glace asked in a commentary broadcast on local television.
“Why is the cabinet of Saint Lucia recommending acquisition of private lands for touristic development? I am not aware of any government policy that Saint Lucia is planning on developing touristic projects, for the benefit of its citizens,” she continued.
Glace noted Section 61 of Saint Lucia’s 1979 Constitution Order states:
“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 for a public purpose and except where provision is made by a law applicable to that taking of possession or acquisition for the prompt payment of full compensation.”
Section 66 provides for the taking of possession or acquisition of property in satisfaction of taxes, as penalty for breach of law, in the execution of judgements or orders of a court.
“Now remember, no interest in property can be acquired except for a public purpose – construction of a water treatment plant – establishment of the northern regional cemetery – extension of the Dennery football field – watershed protection and so on and so forth…
“For goodness sake, we cannot afford to repair our schools, or provide decent hospital facilities, why are we paying compensation to private landowners for their property? And how are we supposed to pay for these touristic developments? In any event, isn’t the government supposed to be broke? Haven’t we been borrowing like crazy to pay our regular bills?” Glace continued.
“And then I search out some of those properties that are to be acquired or is it, have been acquired… for touristic development. Of course, prime property, at prime rates no less, so I dug a little deeper to inquire who are the owners of these properties? To whom are we paying these compensation packages? Something is not quite right with the picture that presents itself,” she said.
In fact, a prominent regional attorney consulted by Caribbean News Now said:
“The fact that the public purpose is stated is not the end of the discussion. There must be sufficient factual basis for the acquisition, and that every acquisition must be considered on its own facts and on its own merit.”
“Every acquisition purported for ‘a public purpose’ stated in the Gazette must be supported by some evidence to show that there is a factual basis for it, and that there was sufficient information before the Cabinet of ministers, and before the decision to acquire was taken.”
No representation without consultation
In a follow up commentary, Glace said, “It appears that I stepped on some very sore corns with my commentary of last week, because I got a few very interesting telephone calls about what was said.”
She went on to ask the following questions:
• “Does John Public not have a say in what policies that our government pursues? And what of the rhetoric, the parliamentarians are in office, through our votes and therefore must do our bidding.
• “Do the current parliamentarians accept that ruling? How many of the laws passed in parliament are made public while they are still bills?
• “How often are we not made aware of the decisions of cabinets and of individual ministers unless they are leaked out?”
Another local attorney at law, and former Cabinet minister, Richard Frederick, also commenting on land acquisition on his weekly television show, said:
“Not only is attorney at law, Glace on point, compulsory land acquisition must be for public purpose. In addition to public purpose there is also a constitutional provision that states when the Crown exercises the prerogative of compulsory acquisition, taking the property of a private citizen, not only must it do so for a public purpose, there must be prompt payment of the value by the crown to the person dispossess, referring to:
Saint Lucia Constitutional Order Of 1978
Chapter I – Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms – Section 6) Protection from deprivation of property.
(1) 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 for a public purpose and except where provision is made by a law applicable to that taking of possession or acquisition for the prompt payment of full compensation.
(2) Every person having an interest in or right over property that is compulsorily taken possession of or whose interest in or right over any property is compulsorily acquired shall have a right of direct access to the High Court for-
a) determining the nature and extent of that interest or right;
b) determining whether that taking of possession or acquisition was duly carried out in accordance with a law authorizing the taking of possession or acquisition;
c) determining what compensation he is entitled to under the law applicable to that taking of possession or acquisition;
d) obtaining that compensation:
Provided that if Parliament so provides in relation to any matter referred to in paragraph (a) or (c) of this subsection the right of access shall be by way of appeal (exercisable as of right at the instance of the person having the interest in or right over the property) form a tribunal or authority, other than the High Court having jurisdiction under any law to determine that matter.”
In addition, Frederick noted: “Not one of those compulsory acquisitions have been settled in terms of full compensation as mandated by the law. I am certain that most if not all of those acquisitions can be set aside by the Court for one reason or the other: (1) On the basis that it was not for public purpose, and (2) that there was no prompt and full compensation.”
Glace acknowledged in her commentary that the state has a right to acquire private property for public purposes, but that right is not unfettered.
“I am not re-assured that the cabinet of ministers understands that, or that they have a concept of public purpose, which is acceptable to the majority of the citizens of Saint Lucia.
“All governments have fallen into this trap-hole, to do or not to do, for the benefit of the people.
“I would surmise that many do, out of ignorance of the law and some, unfortunately, out of disregard for the law. Most would claim that their actions are for the future economic development of the nation but, in making these decisions, I ask you, are they not obligated to take into the account the risks that are involved?
“We have seen time and time again that our government’s actions have done nothing more than put us deeper into economic chaos and oppositions will criticize and promise to make things right, yet when they get into the hot seat, what do we get, if not more of the same…?” she said.
According to Glace, “As it obtains currently however, under this social contract, once we cast our votes at election time, we become subjects of the parliamentary representatives, they set the rules, we obey or else… They make the decisions; we suffer the consequences. That is not the type of government that we voted for; we want better, we deserve better.”