The Ministry of Lands has come under scrutiny following reports from some landowners of their lands being sold without their knowledge. Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega, CEO Beverly Castillo and Lands Commissioner Wilbert Vallejos were guests on Love FMís Morning Show today. Minister Vega said they are aware of the reports and have put temporary measures in place.

Gaspar Vega Ė Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment
ďWe have done some changes in the processing of these instruments where now all transfers have to be vetted by the Commissioner, something that didnít use to happen before. However, this will create something negative as well. It will create a bottleneck because now the Commissioner has extra work to do, something that really he canít afford but we have to manage it that way to discourage the practice that is becoming somewhat popular. We can say it is only in the area where we do not have the registration system because it is occurring mostly in the South; most of that area is not in the registration section. The people that are involved in it clearly knows what they are doing. In the building that we do research, before, we used to have a room where all the researchers go and do their own research because most of them come from law firms but we believe that, weíre not saying that occurs during that time, but during that time they can do so many different things that we didnít use to think about before this came to our knowledge. Now we have a long room and itís not completely private, something that the researchers didnít like at the beginning but now they have to understand that we are trying to do whatever we can to discourage this type of practice. Now half of the wall has been cut and we have put prospect at the top not that we are keeping an eye on them but for them to know that anyone can see them from outside. Why I mention this is because for someone to forge a signature they need a copy of a document because that is what is happening. We are not saying that it cannot happen with some of the people from the ministry or from the department; I donít want to give that impression that we are saying that no, I am dead sure that no one from the department is not involved, but at the same time we donít need to have someone from the department involved for this to happen.Ē

Chief Executive Officer Beverly Castillo said the Department became aware of the situation in May and since then they have been doing their own investigations to find out how the scam could have been carried out. Castillo also spoke on the Land Management Program.

Beverly Castillo Ė CEO, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment ďDevelopment work started in 2009, the program start date was May. We did some aerial photography to develop maps and the program will also look at expanding to include all the sections in the Lands and Surveys department. What happened before, what was there was only for survey and mapping and the registry system now all the other systems which include the national estate, physical planning, valuation section will now be integrated, we will have a centralized database. The database will now allow for information at a touch of a button at a district. Itís also going to reduce the risk of fraud, that is going to allow us to move into the system of compulsory registration. The information is going to be more coordinated and we are no longer using the conveyance system. Itís going to give us more updated maps. It reduces the time we will process transactions. Because the documents are electronic, you are not moving around from office to office with a file. Right now we are being accused, even though I believe that we have put in a lot in terms of trying to reduce files being lost, weíve improved on the EMS system, the management system for the movement of files, it still has its weaknesses but it is improving.Ē

The officials said they need to look at ways of addressing the many challenges faced by the department.