Government to Execute International Persons Landholding Act

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Acting Prime Minister the Hon. Brent Symonette addresses the Bahamas Real Estates Association Luncheon on a number of industry-related issues, at the Nassau Yacht Club, on Thursday, December 6, 2007.  (Photo/Raymond A. Bethel)

By: Lindsay Thompson

NASSAU, The Bahamas – The Government is set to implement “sweeping changes” under the International Persons Landholding Act by January 1, 2008, announced the Acting Prime Minister the Hon Brent Symonette at the Bahamas Real Estate Association Christmas Luncheon.

He told the group of realtors at the Nassau Yacht Club at Montagu on Thursday, December 6, 2007, that the Government “was not happy” with the approval process and has sought to implement a more efficient system.

Mr. Symonette, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, also announced that the Government would be revising the Town Planning Act, the Private Roads and Subdivision Act, the Conservation and Protection of Physical Landscape Act and other such regulatory procedures.

Also, the Ministry of Public Works and transport has circulated a Contractors Bill to regulate and licence building contractors, he said.

Regarding streamlining the approval process of applications, Mr. Symonette said that the first step was to transfer this responsibility to the Office of the Prime Minister and to establish the post of Director of Investments.

This came after the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments in the Goodman’s Bay Corporate Centre was disbanded and its 60 employees redeployed throughout the Civil Service.

Mr. Symonette said that he was surprised to see the number of files on each desk at the former Ministry, awaiting attention in the first instance, by writing a receipt for the application fee, hence, holding up the process.

And, after a few meetings of the Investments Board, it was decided that the chairman – the Prime Minister – be granted authority, subject to the normal due diligence of the Secretariat, to approve those applications for permits in respect of land acquisitions being part of an “Approved Subdivision.”

These applications, he said, are referred to internally as “the short agenda” and are circulated to members of the Board on a regular basis without the necessity of an actual meeting.

The recent “non meeting” in November under the short agenda contained about 37 agenda items for areas such as Winding Bay, Bimini Bay, Emerald Bay, the Residences of Atlantis, Treasure Cay and elsewhere.

The dollar value approved by the short agenda at the meeting was $40.5 million, with $25.3 million being in respect of land sales in New Providence, Mr. Symonette said. He further explained that those Investment Board applications, which were not considered on the short agenda, are circulated to members of the Investments Board and a meeting relating to the same would be held.

To date, there have been 12 meetings with the new Board, the latest had 64 agenda items totalling $96.25 million, with $2.5 million for New Providence, he said.

“We feel that the Government has made a dramatic impact not only on the back log but also on the real time of the application process,” Mr. Symonette said.

In this vein, effective January 1, 2008, he said new forms and supporting documentation for a Certification of Registration and an Application for a permit under the International Persons Landholding Act will come into effect.

And in both instances, properties valued under $10,000 will not require due diligence.

“The major change will be in the fees charged. A fee of $250 will be payable for a Certificate of Registration and $500 for a permit upon approval of the application. The application fee will be abolished,” Mr. Symonette said.

“By doing so, we hope to dramatically impact the time frame from the date of application to the date of consideration by removing the application fee from the front end and redefining the documents required on application,” he added.

Furthermore, there will be a tighter link between the application and the Real Property Tax Department to ensure, firstly, payment of real property taxes and, secondly, proper valuations on the conveyances and the Real Property Tax files, Mr. Symonette said.

In addition to the Investment Board, various proposals are referred to the National Economic Council, he said.