Land Select Committee Reports to Parliament

3
1799

Hon. Fred MitchellREPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE TO INQUIRE INTO THE DISPOSITION OF ALL PUBLICLY HELD LANDS

Communication Delivered by Chairman Hon. Fred Mitchell

20th January 2009

1.    Mr. Speaker, your Committee has the honour to lay before this Honourable House, its report which obtained the unanimous consent of your Committee.

2.    The Committee was appointed on 22nd July 2009 by Mr. Speaker.  The Committee was appointed following the passage in the affirmative of the following: Request for Select Committee which appeared as No. 6 on the House Agenda:

To inquire into all matters touching and concerning the disposition of all publicly owned lands and lands owned and managed by Statutory bodies with powers to send for persons and papers and with leave to sit from place to place and with leave to sit during the recess.

The House agreed to the appointment of the Select Committee on 15th July, 2009.

3.    Members began their work on Friday, 7th August, 2009.  At that meeting it agreed to a plan of action which included inter alia the publication of a notice to the public about the work of your Committee and soliciting input from the public.  The note was advertised via the media including broadcast media and notices were also posted in the offices of Administrators in the Family Islands.

4.    The Committee met on the following dates7th: and 21st August, 4th and 28th September, 5th October, 23rd and 30th November, 2009, 7th and 11th January, 2010, 19th January 2010.

CLICK BELOW TO READ MORE….

5.    At the first meeting your Committee agreed that some meetings would be public. The public meetings were held on: 28th September, 5th October, 23rd November, 30th November, 7th January and 11th January. Your Committee also agreed that witnesses that were required to attend before your Committee ought to be given the opportunity to express their testimony in public.   This matter led to material witnesses giving their testimony in camera.  Your Committee received negative feedback from this approach and your Committee adjusted its instructions so that in future witnesses would have to show compelling reasons why they needed their evidence to be heard in camera.   Your Committee attaches the entire transcript of the evidence given in camera of the following persons in the public interest and in the interest of transparency: Rev. Philip and Schell Stubbs; George Morton; Mae Morton Curry; Sandra and Derek Rutherford; Andre Lee. (Annex XI) We also attach as an annex to this report the copies of the grants, conveyances, and agreements for sale in the matter of land at Forbes Hill, Exuma. Each conveyance cites in the recitals the date and recording reference of the grants from the Crown. (Annex VIII, IX, X)

6.    This matter came to the attention of the public by way of a series of articles that appeared in The Tribune by reporter Paul Turnquest.  The articles were published on the following dates: 20th April 2009, 22nd April 2009, 23rd April 2009, 28th April 2009, 1st May 2009, 16th May 2009, 14th May 2009, 19th May 2009, 21st May 2009, 26th May 2009, 3rd June 2009.

7.    The articles alleged that four parcels of land had been granted to Bahamians at Forbes Hill, Exuma for relatively small sums but that within short order the land was sold to foreign nationals at prices which were far above what was paid for.  There was a great sense of public disquiet and a sense of outrage that Bahamian land in a choice location was alienated for appeared to be exaggerated prices.  The issue was more pointed because the then Director of Lands and Surveys Tex Turnquest was related by marriage to two of the individuals who received the grants from the Crown and benefited from later sale of the land to foreigners. It later transpired by evidence before the select committee that all of the parties in the transaction had some familial connection with Mr. Turnquest (the Director).

8.    Mr. Turnquest (the Director) spoke to the press in an article dated 22nd April 2009 and in it sought to cast blame on the Prime Minister saying that since he did not make the ultimate decision on the granting of crown land, there was no favourtism involved.  He indicated that he saw nothing wrong with his relatives receiving crown land.

9.    Mr. Turnquest (the Director) resigned from the Public Service shortly thereafter on 11th May, 2009.  The newspaper reports said that he had been called in by the Prime Minister to seek an explanation for his conduct and then was asked to resign.  The Permanent Secretary in the Office of Prime Minister confirmed this account of the events. Mr. Turnquest (the Director) confirmed this chronology.  Witnesses were called including Mr. Turnquest (the Director) and those who received the grants in Forbes Hill and this will be discussed in extenso.

10.    The result of this public exposure was that former Member of Parliament the Hon. George A. Smith, a former Minister responsible for lands and former representative for the islands of the Exumas and other civic minded citizens called for an investigation into the matter and allied matters.  Your Committee could not investigate all matters that arose in connection with the land issues but in connection with the land at Forbes Hill in particular, your Committee believed that it had a duty in so far as it could to determine the facts in connection with those transactions.

11.    The results of that investigation are discussed separately and recommendations are included with regard to that particular allegation.

12.    Mr. Smith raised inter alia in his evidence his concern about specific grants to individuals in Exuma including an agreement on land in Norman’s Cay, Exuma which is to be leased to the Exuma Resorts Development Ltd. Mr. Smith’s statement is attached as an annex to this report. (Annex I)   As an affixed annex to this report, we have sought to provide the action taken by the government on these various complaints and complaints made by other people who came forward. (Annex II)

13.    Ryan Pinder, a noted attorney testified about Commonage land in the Family Islands and made recommendations with regard to commonage land.  His statement is also included as an annex to this report.  (Annex III)

14.    The Committee sought to provide an opportunity for any concerned citizen who had a complaint to advance their complaint either in writing or orally by in person evidence.  The list of witnesses who came forward is attached as Annex IV.

15.    The list of those who wrote Your Committee are listed as a separate annex to this report. (Annex V)  We were unable to address specific complaints save that we undertook to bring the matter to the attention of the executive and seek some report on the matters on which those complaints were based.

16.    As the public hearings progressed there were other lines of inquiry which arose in connection with public servants who received land from the Crown.  This necessitated the calling of Ronald Thompson, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of the Environment and Christopher Russell, a Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment.  The circumstances surrounding their cases will be discussed in turn. Mr. Thompson wrote a letter to the Committee dated 14th January 2010 seeking to clarify his evidence. That letter is attached as an annex to this report. (Annex VI)

17.    Other public officials who were called before the Committee were: Richard Hardy, then the Acting Director of Lands and Surveys, Audley Greaves, the Under Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry responsible for the Department of Lands and Surveys, David Davis, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, M. Teresa Butler, former Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister at the time of the transactions to grant the parcels of land in Forbes Hill, Exuma in 2001 and now Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, Alexander Flowers, the now Director of Lands and Surveys. These public officials were called to get their views and recommendations on specific policy matters and specific decisions including issues of conflict of interest as they apply to public policy. In addition questions were put to some of these officials about possible grants of land to themselves. Each denied that they received grants of crown land.

18.    Your committee took the view that this was a committee designed to make certain policy recommendations to the Government on the disposition of publicly held lands.  The controversy which arose as a result of the appearance of “flipping” the land granted at Forbes Hill, Exuma raised the issue of transparency of the process of the application for crown land, the disclosure requirements, the fairness of how crown land was allocated, the rationality of the process.   Your Committee will make recommendations with regard to those areas.

19.    Your Committee accepts as a definition of ‘flipping’ the receipt of the crown grant with no intention by the grantee of fulfilling the purpose stated when applying for the grant but with the undisclosed intention to sell it at a high profit within a short time after receipt of the grant to some undisclosed  individual or entity that is known to the grantee at the time of the application.

20.    Your Committee was assisted in this matter by the statements of the Right Honourable Prime Minister to the House and the intervention of the Right Honourable Leader of the Opposition on 20th July, 2009.  Both men were ministers responsible for crown land during the material times of the disposition of the land at Forbes Hill.

21.    In addition, your Committee was assisted in making its recommendations by a review of the draft report made by the Land Use Policy Administration Project (LUPAP) which was sponsored by the Inter American Development Bank and is now in final form although not presented to the House.  In reviewing the recommendations of the LUPAP report, it appears to our Committee that the recommendations are a useful guide on how to proceed with this very difficult issue.  These reports address the issue of commonage; the need to collect spatial data on all land in The Bahamas (a project that has already started); the need to tie that spatial data to the registration of land, to which electronic data the public should have access; the need for a National Land Agency which would be the repository and manager of all crown lands as well as other Government lands.  The administrative functions related to the disposition of crown land would then be completely separated from the issue of the management of the resource.  Your committee supports this view.

22.    There is therefore no need to cover ground that has already been in our view covered by the LUPAP report.  Your Committee urges the government to make the final reports public and lay the reports on the table of the House and put these reports on the government’s website so that they can be properly in the public domain.

23.    In addition, your Committee believes that it would be necessary in light of the public complaints to lay out a legislative framework for the applications for any government held lands and what processes the public ought to expect including time lines and the ability to track applications. Mr. Turnquest in his evidence indicated that the electronic infrastructure is largely in place to do this.

24.    Your Committee also believes that there ought to be stricter rules with regard to conflict of interest provisions including rules which would obviate allegations of the equivalent of “insider trading” as it is known in the area of publicly traded shares.  In other words, there ought to be policies which limit or prohibit those who are directly responsible for the allocation of publicly held lands from benefiting or their family and friends benefitting from the disposition of those lands.  It appears to us that this is the central complaint with regard to the disposition of the land at Forbes Hill and other lands.  We believe that there is support for criminal sanctions including restitution and forfeiture where this is violated by any political figure or public servant.
TEX TURNQUEST

25.    There were two allegations made about Tex Turnquest, the former Director of Lands and Surveys, and his conduct with regard to the disposition of publicly held lands.  The first is that he colluded with friends and relatives of himself and his wife to grant land at Forbes Hill, Exuma. There were four parcels of land.  Each parcel sits in a bay in Little Exuma with pristine white sand and is considered prime land of great value. The land was sold by the grantees all friends or relatives in law of Mr. Turnquest to foreigners for many times the price paid to the government within a relatively short time. The sale was handled by the same real estate agent and the same lawyer.  It gave rise to the suspicion that Mr. Turnquest benefited from the sale of the land.

26.    The following are the list of grants, the money paid for the grants, the conveyances, the money paid for those conveyances:
Dates of Grants and parties, price, recording reference:

16th August 2001 Derek and Sonia Rutherford Book C 5, Folio 32, $2340 Volume 8214 at pages 230 to 231
6th June 2001 to George Granville Morton Book C5 Folio 30, $1270 Volume 8141 at pages 260 to 261
27th January 2003 to Mae Mary Lucille Sharon Morton-Curry Book C5, Folio 41 Volume 8591 at pages 136 to 137
18th March 2002 to Philip and Schell Stubbs Book C 5 Folio 37, $1,370 Volume 8351 at pages 78 and 79

Dates of Agreements for Sale and parties:
16th February 2005 Derek and Sonia Rutherford agreed to sell to Michael and Antonia Marco
9th May 2006 George Morton agreed to sell to Don Hughes
9th May 2006 May Curry agreed to sell to Don Hughes
19th December 2006 Philip and Schell Stubbs agreed to sell to Glenn and Kyle Goodwin
Dates of Conveyances and Prices and parties:
5th July 2005 Derek and Sonia Rutherford conveyed land to Michael and Antonia Marco $500,000
8th June 2006 George Morton conveyed land to Little Exuma Bay Ltd. $550,000
8th June 2006 Mae Mary Lucille Sharon Morton-Curry conveyed land to Little Exuma Bay Ltd. $550,000
26th February 2007 Philip and Schell Stubbs conveyed land to Glen and Kyle Goodwin $425,000

27.    Mr. Turnquest denied that he benefited from the sale of the land.  He said that he did nothing wrong in forwarding the applications of his friends and relatives in law to be granted crown land by the government. He said that at the time of the application, he was not married and sought to say that this put the matter on different plain.  However, he had no answer for the fact that when the grants were actually made, he was in fact married to his wife and there was no disclosure to the decision maker at that point.  His marriage took place on 30th October, 1999.

28.    The land sold was subject when originally granted to a conditional purchase lease in 1999. The policy was changed by memo from the Office of Prime Minister in July 2000 to do away with the requirement for development of the land under lease before a grant of the fee simple. It is Mr. Turnquest’s evidence that had the change in policy not occurred, some $100,000 would have had to have been expended by the grantees in order to qualify for the transfer of the fee simple. The Senior Policy advisor said that the reason for the change in policy was that there were complaints from grantees of the conditional purchase leases that they could not get mortgages to reach the threshold required to develop the land in order to qualify for outright grants. This would seem to answer the suspicion raised in some minds that the change of policy came about as a result of a political motive to assist specific individuals.

29.    In the evidence before the Committee, the grantees the Rutherfords, the Mortons and the Stubbs, all said they were surprised at the policy change. They were subsequently approached for sales of their parcels by Andre Lee, a New Providence realtor, who was a co-broker with Dilly Crab Tree Realty in Exuma once this happened. He said that he approached Derek Rutherford first who sold the parcel owned by himself and his wife. Mr. Rutherford introduced Mr. Lee to the others. Sandra Rutherford, the wife of Mr. Rutherford is the godmother of one of Tex Turnquest’s children. All the parties checked to find out whether or not they could sell. Mr. Turnquest was consulted and in each case the witnesses said similarly that they were told that Mr. Turnquest’s view was that they should not sell but that they could sell.  Whereupon they did sell at the prices listed on the conveyances.  In each case the witnesses said that they originally wanted to build second or retirement or vacation homes on the land and resisted the first entreaties to sell but they agreed to sell once they heard the large amounts being offered.  All said that they would still like to have retirement or second or vacation homes but their plans are now on hold and none of them have proceeded to do so.

30.    None of the witnesses appeared to see anything wrong with the transactions.

31.    Mrs. Stubbs said in her evidence that the matter of the land arose first at a “public gathering” where the wife of Tex Turnquest was present.  She said that Mr. Turnquest’s wife and she were friends.  She said that Mr. Turnquest may have been there. She said the advice on the land in Exuma probably came from him.  The application for the Exuma land was made following the social conversations at this public gathering.

32.    Mrs. Stubbs expressed surprise that this would become an issue since in her view the culture of the country was such that you got things done by the contacts that you had with people that you knew.

33.    The particular extract from her evidence in part and that is material is as follows:
“But to speak to what he [an Honourable Member] said earlier in our context in The Bahamas, I get calls every day from people who would ask me certain questions. Do you know this person, can you do this?  So that is really how we operate in The Bahamas honestly… That’s part of our culture and it happens every day.”

34.    The Committee is unable to conclude that there was any malfeasance in public office with regard to this transaction. Each of the grantees and the real estate broker denied that Mr. Turnquest solicited money from them or induced the sales.  Mr. Turnquest denied receiving any money or soliciting any money from them.  Mr. Lee denied giving any money to Mr. Turnquest and denied that Mr. Turnquest ever solicited any money from him.  Given the constraints of time, your Committee was unable to trace by looking into bank accounts to determine whether money ended up in the hands of Mr. Turnquest from these transactions. Further the evidence does not suggest that taking of the grant was for the purpose of “flipping” the land but rather a chance windfall opportunity occurred of which they all took advantage.

35.    The difficulty which none of the parties appeared to appreciate is that given the proximity of the relationship of the parties, the transactions were bound in the light of public scrutiny to raise in your Committee’s view the reasonable suspicion that there was the intention of “flipping” the land and of some malfeasance in public office. It is incumbent therefore that in the future as a matter of public policy rules ought to be put in place to prevent this kind of appearance of self-dealing. New rules could help to protect the officers in the public service from themselves, and from accusations of malfeasance and improper conduct.  The existing rule of referring the matter of a public servant’s application for crown land to the Public Service Commission does not seem vigorous enough or sufficiently probative.

36.    Your Committee believes that the very least, Mr. Turnquest’s explanations appear to be disingenuous and his behavior does not accord with the standard expected of someone in the office of public trust that he held. His conduct should be further investigated.

37.    As for the issue of the culture of the country, your Committee is satisfied that there is a climate of evolving standards in our country.  It is clear that in the past “kisses went by favour” in many transactions. There are anecdotal reports of former Directors of Lands and Surveys receiving large tracts of land while they were in office and their friends and family benefitting as well as prominent politicians from past governments.  The public has an issue with this. The public is entitled to wonder whether the politicians who made the decisions on land were in complicity with these grants and therefore are infected with any possible malfeasance or improper behavior of the public servants. At the very least, the question of whether there was adequate political oversight of these transactions arises.  These instant transactions in the light of those evolved standards of public probity do not meet the smell test, but the majority of your Committee believed that the required response has to be more nuanced than to require a complete ban on these transactions which appear to be self dealing. Your Committee believes, however, that there ought to be at the very least full frank and public disclosure to the decision makers in the process of the applications so as to ensure transparency.

38.    Perhaps this means that in designing legislation or rules to govern this area of the application process, there must be such mandated requirements for full disclosure as outlined.  The Prime Minister’s Senior Policy Advisor seemed to concede this in her testimony before your Committee.  Your Committee also recommends that all applications for crown land and other public lands be made public and published on the government’s website and in the press in order to give the public the opportunity to see who is applying for publicly held lands and the intended use.  Similarly the decision of the authorities on the application should be so published.

39.    In addition, the question of a single Minister being able to lease and grant crown land should be changed.  This matter should instead by law be vested in a Commission or Board, chaired by Cabinet appointees with all the attendant transparency required of public commissions.

40.    The Prime Minister’s Senior Policy advisor in her testimony conceded that there was something that did not appear quite right about a permanent secretary receiving an interest in crown land while that permanent secretary was responsible for advising on the grant of crown land.  She herself denied that she received any crown land.  She also denied that any family member was the recipient of a crown grant.  Later in this report, another Permanent Secretary revealed that he had advised on the grant of crown land to his brother and son and he himself had a financial interest.

41.    Your Committee therefore believes that the change in policy to deal with this is a requirement of the evolving standards in The Bahamas.

42.    Your Committee also recommends that in future, legislation ought to govern this area which will require that there be restitutio in integrum if there is not full and frank disclosure with regard to the applications for any publicly held lands by anyone who applies. This would give the government the right to trace any monies which are received as a result of the onward sale of these properties.

43.    Notwithstanding our conclusions, which are circumscribed by time and resources constraints, it may still be open to the executive in the particular circumstances of this matter to investigate the question of criminal malfeasance in public office and we so recommend.

44.    The second issue with regard to Mr. Turnquest has to do with a three acre parcel of land farmed by Ulric Rigby in Clarence Town, Long Island, two miles north of the Anglican Church.   Mr. Reginald Rigby, son of Mr. Ulric Rigby now deceased, appeared before the Committee on 11th January 2010 and said that he had been trying to regularize his father’s right to land which had been held by lease.  He admitted that the lease had expired but said that he was defeated in his efforts to regularize the matter after his enquiries were stonewalled at the Department of Lands and Surveys.   In the event, he saw the land staked out on a visit to Long Island in October 2009.  He made enquiries, pretending to be a buyer and he was told that he had to check with Text Turnquest about the land.  The inference he drew was that the land was owned by Mr. Turnquest.

45.    We put this matter to Mr. Turnquest who responded that he had made a total denial of owning crown land in his evidence before the Committee. He responded by letter dated 18th January 2009 in which he denied the allegations made by Mr. Rigby. That letter is attached as Annex VII.
The Director of Lands and Surveys, the Under Secretary Mr. Greaves and the Permanent Secretary Mr. Davis all denied any knowledge of this but promised that they would investigate the matter.  Your committee later learned that this land was subdivided for residential purposes by the Crown but this issue came too late and our inquiry had ended for us to say under what circumstances this occurred.  We advise Mr. Rigby to follow up with an attorney if he feels that a right has been violated.
RONALD THOMPSON

46.    Ronald Thompson was the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister from mid 2002 to mid 2008.   He appeared before the Committee and subsequently wrote a letter to the Committee explaining his position with regard to land that had been obtained for his son and brother at Deep Creek, Eleuthera. The letter is appended to this report as an annex. (Annex VI)  In his evidence given on 30th November, 2009 he volunteered that he had invested some $50,000 in the project.  He said that the Prime Minister who was the minister at the time was fully aware of all of the facts surrounding the application. This single fact differentiates the case from that of Mr. Turnquest.

47.    While we are satisfied that there was no public malfeasance involved in this matter, this transaction again struck your Committee as not one that is consistent with the demands of the evolving standards of our society today, that someone who is in a position to advise on the granting of crown land should advise on a matter involving himself and his family.  It is of course left up to the responsible decision maker to waive any potential conflict by full frank and disclosure where the rules do not prohibit such an application. It appears that this is what happened in his case but in future your Committee believes that there ought to be an absolute ban on transactions of this nature.

48.    In the circumstances of Mr. Thompson’s full disclosure and assuming this will not be controverted, Mr. Thompson can claim to have discharged his duty.
CHRISTOPHER RUSSELL

49.    Christopher Russell was a public servant who was Senior Forest Officer at the Department of Lands and Surveys in 1982 to 2003.  His wife was at the material time also an employee of the Department when she applied for crown land in Abaco where they are both from.  Mr. Russell, who is now a Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment, said that he was unaware of his wife’s application and did not know of the grant until it was actually made. He applied for a similar grant but has not received one.  He said that his wife has not actually received the grant from the government.  He did not see anything wrong with the fact that his wife obtained a crown grant while he or she was an employee in the Department.

50.    We are unable to conclude that there was any malfeasance in public office in this matter but it raises the suspicion of insider trading when someone’s spouse is able to get a crown grant and he and she were both employees at the Department of Land and Surveys.  The issue becomes more sharply drawn when one hears the complaints of many people who are not so connected who are unable to get crown grants  and who apply and are unable to get so much as an acknowledgement of their applications.

51.    We repeat that this is another example of why rules ought to be put in place to ban this as a practice.
AUDLEY GREAVES

52.    Audley Greaves is the Under Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.  According to the statement of the Prime Minister to the House, land was granted to both Mr. Greave’s wife and to his son.  Mr. Greaves admitted to the Committee that his wife did receive a grant but does not yet have a conveyance.  He did not see anything wrong with it but after some cross questioning by committee members said that in retrospect he thought it was not the prudent thing to have done.

53.    While we can make no conclusion about public malfeasance in office with regard to this transaction, we believe this again underlines the need for a policy which addresses the question of an officer who has responsibility for advising the politicians on the granting of crown land, appearing to advise the politician to grant land for the benefit of the advisor.
GENERAL PUBLIC WITNESSES

54.    The main complaint of the general public witnesses, listed at Annex V is that they applied for crown land or government held land and they had not heard from the respective department.  Many of them were concerned that they had not heard from their applications but public officers connected to the Department were able to obtain grants or sale on what appeared to be a fast tracked basis. It is this that highlights the main public policy issue. It is certainly wrong for officers in the public service, their family and friends and in particular in the Office of the Prime Minister which is now responsible for the Department and the Department of Lands of Surveys itself to be seen to have an advantage on crown land grants over the general public.  In that situation, the general public can never win.  In line then with the evolving standards of our society, this practice must in your Committee’s view be severely circumscribed.

55.    The applications for crown land or any public land ought to be available on line or at the Department.

56.    The applications for crown land or any public land ought to have a tracking number.

57.    The applications ought to be able to be tracked on line, so that the applicant can know precisely where that application is and who is considering the proposals.

58.    There ought to be clear guidelines as to the policies which govern the granting of crown land or any public land.

59.    There ought to be a deadline imposed for responding with acceptance or rejection of an application.

60.    There ought to be an appeals process.

61.    The majority of your Committee did not support a total prohibition for applying or receiving crown land or any public land by those who are in the employ of the Government,  the Department of Lands and Surveys or in the chain of decision making in the Ministries responsible for granting crown land or other public land but your Committee was unanimous in the view that there ought to be full, frank  and public disclosure required of all familial, business or friendly connections of the applicants for crown land by officers in the Department or the Ministry responsible on pain of penalty.

62.    Officers in the Department and the Ministry responsible should not be allowed to take up any grant until after their retirement or transfer from the Department. The exception would be where crown grants or other public lands fall to that officer by operation of law, for example upon the death of a relative who has left it by will or it falls to that officer arising out of intestacy.

63.    There ought to be a restriction on all grants of the fee simple in crown land to prohibit the alienation of land within a period of time from the grant or sale from the government of crown or other public lands to non nationals except for the purposes of a mortgage to a duly recognized lending concern.

64.    There ought to be a high level Board that administers the granting of crown land and other public lands and not a single minister alone. That high level Board should come with the attendant requirements of openness, fairness, transparency in published regulations and so far as is practicable the applicants  will be served on a first come first served basis.
NORMAN’S CAY (A CAY IN NORTHERN EXUMA OF 900 ACRES)

65.    On the last day of the public hearings 11th January 2010, the Permanent Secretary David Davis answered a question about the status of an Agreement between Exuma Resort Developers Ltd. and the Government of The Bahamas on Norman’s Cay in Exuma.  This was an issue raised in the evidence of the Hon. George A. Smith, the former Minister and former Member of Parliament for Exuma.  Mr. Smith was concerned about the alienation of the government owned land (550 acres) that was not crown land but land that by operation of law is vested in the Treasurer.  The Permanent Secretary Mr. Davis assured your Committee that the land in Norman’s Cay is still in the hands of the government.  He said that the developers had pulled back as a result of the economic situation.  With regard to public owned lands at Norman’s Cay, your Committee supports the view that this is very valuable land and that there ought to be full disclosure of all parties who are applying for the use of this land and the government ought to be slow to alienate such significant portions of public held land on Norman’s Cay having regard to the heritage that ought to be left to Bahamians and any use of public lands at Norman’s Cay must be used to empower Bahamians.

LAND POLICY
66.    We wish to thank Paul Turnquest, The Tribune reporter, for his work as a reporter in making known relevant information to the public.  He has done a great service to the community. What impressed your Committee was the fact of a young Bahamian, born after independence, who has fully embraced the notion of a national patrimony to which he and his generation have a responsibility. His testimony recalled the spirit of his grandfather and father at Long Island to protect the land for future generations.  It appears that Mr. Turnquest (the reporter) has the same sense of dedication.

67.    What the question of this entire investigation begs and it is one which was raised in Mr. Turnquest’s (the reporter) testimony is whether or not land will be available for people of his generation and beyond at prices that are affordable.  This is a difficult and complex issue to address.  However, today’s policy makers must be cognizant of the fact and the responsibility and their duty to protect the heritage of their country and one of the main ways that this can be done is by the protection of land for his and future generations.

68.    It was therefore quite surprising to your Committee that the witnesses who were involved in the  Forbes Hill, Exuma grants did not seem to be  consciously aware that despite the right in a free market economy to  profit from investments that the transactions under the scrutiny of the evolving standards of this society would be seen to be imprudent.  The public is entitled to be concerned that the political authority did not until after the fact spot that this was occurring and only then took steps to prevent the alienation of valuable Bahamian land.  Your Committee’s sense is that the public remains dissatisfied with how public held lands are now disposed of and that there is a need for urgent action to address the fairness and transparency issues.

69.    Tex Turnquest has paid for his acts with the loss of his career prematurely and he might consider at least making the public concession that his conduct in office did not meet the standards required of public probity and objectivity and that a wrong was committed by him in his public office.

70.     Your committee wishes to highlight that although there was not proof of public malfeasance by any of the senior public officials that gave evidence there were clear signs that inside information was shared to the benefit of friends and family of some of these officials.  Information regarding choice available land and land that was due to be surveyed was clearly disclosed, thereby enabling certain applicants to apply for land that was ready for approval by the Minister responsible.

71.    With regard to commonage land, this is an issue which has been thoroughly canvassed by the LUPAP report.  Your Committee agrees that there ought to be a way to convert parcels of land into bankable grants.  We support the general thrust of Mr. Pinder’s recommendations but we are unable to go beyond that in the particulars.
THE DEPARTMENT OF LANDS AND SURVEYS

72.    A special word must be said about the Department of Lands and Surveys that is primarily responsible for the administration of the crown lands of the country and the management of the resource of crown lands.   All the policy advisors to the government have said that the main complaint of the public is delay in dealing with applications.  They say in answer to the complaint that the Department simply does not have the resources and manpower to meet the demands of the public.  The demands are likely to increase, therefore as managers of the system, the policy makers both at the political level and at the public service level have to make a concerted effort to address this resource issue.  To some extent, your Committee believes that this is being addressed through the reforms suggested by the LUPAP report and the hiring of surveyors by the Department.  Indeed, many applicants who have grants are unable to get them because the properties have not been surveyed. Mr. Davis reports that some progress is being made with the new hires of surveyors.

73.    In his evidence on 11th January, the Permanent Secretary Mr. Davis said that a new policy is in effect that no application will be accepted by the Department for “unsurveyed” land, unless that individual is prepared to pay for the survey.  While the exception may help to ease individual cases, as a generality, it will tend to distort the equity in society so that those who are relatively well off will have an unfair advantage to the country’s national resources, its lands, over the relatively less well off.

74.    We flag this as an important issue that needs to be addressed quickly. Competent management will and must always have some answer available to deal with the resource issues. New technology including the completion of the spatial data surveys ought to help.  Another answer might be to seek to lower the expectations of the public about how quickly these processes can take place.  If the public believes that if they are patient and within named times their issues will be addressed, there may be fewer complaints.

75.    It may also help if the executive makes the decision that all applications for publicly owned lands should come in the first instance through the Department and ultimately the new National Land Agency.

76.    It is the new Director’s job to chart the way forward on reform of the Department and the whole process of land applications and allocations.
CONCLUSION
77.    We commend your Committee’s report for adoption by the House and seek the consent thereof.  Your Committee expresses its gratitude to the staff of the House of Assembly including Maurice Tynes, Chief Clerk, Leon D. Rahming, Assistant Clerk, the staff of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, the media, the Commissioner of Police and Royal Bahamas Police Force for the use of the Paul Farquharson Conference Centre for the public hearings.

78.    This report is by no means exhaustive.  We apologize to those who were unable to have their issues addressed properly. Indeed some people wrote to us long after the deadlines passed but we undertake to pass their issues on to the authorities.

79.    It may also be advisable for the House to consider that a standing committee of the House be appointed at the head of each session to deal with publicly held lands as part of the oversight of the executive’s actions in this area.  This would lend to the transparency issue.

80.    Each Bahamian wants to have a plot of land to call his or her own and on which to build their home and claim a stake in the nation.  Indeed, one of the successes of our nation is that we are largely a property owning democracy.  Thankfully there is enough land for that to continue to be the case. The Right Honourable Prime Minister’s statement to the House says: “Of the 3.45 million acres of land in The Bahamas, approximately 2.5 million acres is crown land; 900,000 is wetland.  That leaves roughly 1.6 million acres of dry crown land.  This crown land bank presents the government with the opportunity to economically empower Bahamians.  It also creates an important means of encouraging and supporting economic and social development throughout the islands”.

81.    We agree. We believe that this may be the single greatest component to anchoring the young Bahamian to his country and thereby helping to secure the country’s future.

82.    Your Committee is sure that both sides of the political divide in the House are concerned about the issue of the young Bahamian and access to affordable land.  The Right Honourable Member for Farm Road and Centreville in his statement to the House said “Bahamians are being frustrated and held back by not having title to land they occupy.”

83.    It is important to say to those who were the subject of unexpected scrutiny having secured land at Forbes Hill that we have been careful to avoid casting any unsubstantiated aspersions on their characters.  That is not the purpose of this enquiry but this inquiry is salutatory for all. Sometimes events transpire so that lessons drawn for the wider public good, occasion the spotlight upon those who are otherwise private citizens.  It reinforces the view that each of us must to some extent be aware and cognizant of our wider role in society. These individuals are not being blamed for these events but they are the cause of the lesson to the wider country.

84.     Your Committee points out to the Honourable House that there is an unfortunate history of reports being read and tabled in the House, and reports generally in the society being completed and presented but many of them never see their recommendations implemented.  Your Committee would hope that this report is of such use to the Honourable House and the country that the report will not simply sit on the shelf but its recommendations in so far as practicable are implemented.

85.    Land is very much the wealth of the nation and your Committee believes that if we make the right decisions today with regard to land allocation and use, the people of The Bahamas can be empowered, greater wealth can be created for young Bahamians, and the security and future of our country will be assured.

86.    It is left only for your Committee to thank this Honourable House for confidence reposed in us for this most important duty.
Frederick A. Mitchell………………………………….

Charles Maynard………………………………………

Philip Davis……………………………………………..

Branville McCartney…………………………………

Kenyatta Gibson……………………………………

3 COMMENTS

  1. yeah right eagle…these greedy backward thinking government mps and ministers goin make land available to bahamians — hahaha…utter nonsense…this whole thing was a sham and if u ask me, simply shows the ignorance of two prime ministers…signing stuff and don’t know what the hell they just finished reading…giving all  of our land to foreigners and nothing for us…making ya vote for dem to wait ten years for some nonsense they promise ya…hope those people in elizabeth learn sense and asking for land!!! u know us..liquor and music and we gone crazy…anyway, nothing will come out of this process other than bahamians will not be getting any land at all now and foreigners will be getting plenty more than what they were already getting…thanks UBP – i mean PLP & FNM…the famed black governments!!!!

  2. I was impressed with the bi-partisanship and the transparency of this process.  It resulted in a comprehensive report, which, if followed, would be good for the Bahamian people.

Comments are closed.