The widespread sale of land under the People’s United Party (PUP) administration appeared to be a norm in the sight of the Belizean people, with many land transactions scrutinized and questioned. When the helm of government changed guard, an in depth investigation into various land transactions within the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment was initiated. But no sooner has the Ministry come out of an intense audit than it is right back under the scrutiny of the public. This time the questions relate to various land transactions within Ambergris Caye and its surrounding areas which have taken place and have as of recent come to light.
Last week, a Belize City based media house reported that a part of the Caribbean Sea had been surveyed and the mappings had been approved by the Lands Department in the name of three San Pedro Town residents. The San Pedro Sun obtained a copy of said survey dated August 15th, 2008 and confirmed that the document indeed indicates that a portion of the sea has been pegged off for possible development.

The surveyed area is nine acres of open water that is shallow enough to walk on and a popular spot for fishermen from San Pedro Town. Not only is the area important to the environment and local fishermen; the question remains - how can the sea, which is deemed “Crown’s Land” now be privately owned and slated for development? The survey form is in the names of Ellis Eiley for 2.027 acres, Ruby Eiley for 2.061 acres and Ellis John Eiley for 2.017 acres, all residents of San Pedro Town.

In speaking with The San Pedro Sun, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment Beverly Castillo explained that the matter is under investigation and that the Ministry’s technicians are in the process of visiting the area and inspecting the mapped site. The San Pedro Sun was unable to reach Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, Manuel Rodriguez for an interview and all three applicants refused to comment on the issue. In speaking with the Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia he confirmed that the nine acres of open sea in question is under investigation but assured us that no title has been granted for that area.

But while investigating the different land issues, The San Pedro Sun also learned that two plots of land initially designated as a green area or a reserve in the Ambergris Bay Subdivision have also been sold to private land owners. Clearly indicated in the Ambergris Bay Subdivision Map is parcel lot number 420 and 401 which were set aside as green area. Parcel 420 has been given out under Grant fiat (a land title that the Ministry of Land is entitled to give away) 498 of 06 file 10-08 of 06 which shows the parcel is owned by Maya Land Company, which is based out of Panama. Similarly, parcel 401 has been given under Grant Fiat 892 of 06 file 746 of 06 to one Javier Chan. Mr. Chan was not available to confirm this but Maya Land Co. did confirm that they are the legitimate share holders and hold the title to parcel 420 in the Ambergris Bay Subdivision. It was further explained that the property was purchased from a private land owner, in 2006, who it is alleged acquired it from government. Because this print deadline had to be met, Maya Land Co. did not have enough time to produce the pertinent paperwork which would highlight who the property was purchased from. It was, however, explained that when the company purchased the property they were unaware that the land had been designated as a reserve since no where on the paperwork was that highlighted.

According to CEO Castillo, she was not aware that the reserve land at Ambergris Caye Subdivision had been sold. When asked how the Ministry would proceed with the issue, Castillo stated that there was no definite policy; however the Ministry can proceed to either de-reserve the lots or assign another area for the reserve, cancel the title making it null and void or government could take ownership of the land while compensating the current land owners with another parcel of land. CEO Castillo explained that the Ministry will proceed to investigate the matter but that the Ministry cannot take a unilateral decision and the final decision would fall in the hands of Cabinet. Current Chair of the San Pedro Lands Committee, Yolanda Parham, explained that no recommendation has been given out under her watch for land on Ambergris Caye.

Honorable Heredia stated that he had just learned that the two parcels of reserve land in the Ambergris Bay Subdivision Area had recently been sold, but stated that he will be looking into the matter. Honorable Heredia ended by stating that if any reserved land was given under the last months of the PUP administration or of recent, he will proceed to advise the Ministry of Natural Resources to have the title canceled and if compensation should be given, it will be left to the court to determine.

The portion of Caribbean Sea that has been surveyed.

Two plots of land initially designated as a green area or a reserve in the Ambergris Bay Subdivision have also been sold to private land owners.

San Pedro Sun