The Caribbean Court of Justice made a decision yesterday in the appeal between the Government and, a private landowner, the Belmopan Land Development Corporation Limited (BLDC).
The dispute concerns the total monetary compensation that the government owes to BLDC for GOB's compulsory acquisition of 1,394 acres of land near Belmopan. For a number of years going all the way back to 2013, the Barrow Administration distributed parcels of land to third parties which formed part of a block of 2,647 acres belonging to the Company.
The BLDC did not resist, and the company's principals were perfectly okay with the acquisition, in exchange for compensation for the land's fair market value. But, negotiations to arrive at that value failed, and that's when the company sued the government in the Supreme Court. Justice Michelle Arana, accepted the expert opinion of a valuer who testified in the company's favor that all of the lands should be valued as prime real estate as part of the expansion of Belmopan's City limits. So, that valuer suggested to the court that the government owed the company a little over 11,500 dollars per acre. That's a total of just over 16 million dollars in compensation, which is what the trial judge accepted as proper compensation.
The Government disagreed with that very high price for all the land, and got another valuer who placed the value of the land at a much lower sum per acre.
This case went to the Court of Appeal, and finally to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which handed down a ruling in a virtual hearing yesterday. Here's an excerpt of the summary of the judgment which was read out by the CCJ President:Justice Adrian Saunders - CCJ President"The GOB embarked on a process of compulsory acquiring, firstly 202 acres owned by Belmopan. It failed to carry through with the compulsory acquisition process, but it retained possession of the land. Subsequently, GOB dispossessed Belmopan of a further 1192 acres. It's not clear how that occurred, but Belmopan was content to let the GOB assume ownership of all 1394 acres of land, in exchange for payment from GOB of the fair market value of both parcels. Essentially, the dispute is over the amount of compensation payable to Belmopan for GOB's admitted expropriation. A total of 1394 acres of land owned by Belmopan, referred to that as the expropriated land. The Supreme Court had assessed the amount, but the Court of Appeal decided that the case should be remitted to the Supreme Court for further evidence to be taken. It's certain qualifications, and by a majority, the court agrees with the Court of Appeal's decision. Having regard to the reasoning of the Majority, the Court remitted the case to the Supreme Court for the hearing. The Court also ordered that GOB, a, Make an interim payment to Belmopan in the sum of $6 million less, such sums as GOB has already paid on account, with interest on that sum, at 6% per annum, from the first of January 2014 and B, GOB takes all measures, at its own expense and within a reasonable time, to survey and delineate the expropriated land, with a view to having the landowner transfer the same to the government, free from any taxes or duties in connection with the said transfer. Costs were also awarded to Belmopan."
Attorney Naima Barrow represented the appellants, while the Government was represented by Assistant Solicitor General, Samantha Matute-Tucker, and Attorney Briana Williams.Channel 7