In 2007, property lots were awarded to residents of San Pedro in various subdivisions such as Colonia San Diego, which was surveyed in two phases. In phase one, two hundred and fifty three (253) lots were distributed. Phase two commenced shortly after and provided residents with one hundred and seventy six (176) lots. Colonia San Diego is located about five and a half miles north of San Pedro Town and is situated on the western side of the island. Records show that a large number of residents have paid for these lots in full, however a large number have submitted payments for first installments and survey fees only.
It has been brought to light that some lots have been re-issued to other people, some lots have were undervalued and then revalued at a higher price, and in some cases, individuals claim that the government is refusing to issue titles for properties that have been paid for.
Evelia Paz – Williams, native of San Pedro, acquired two parcels of land during the issuing of the lots in the abovementioned phases in the Colonia San Diego Sub Divisions. In January of 2008 she was issued “Land Purchase Approval Form” as per the National Lands Act, 1992. Assessments of the purchase price for both parcels were conducted and there was a first installment, which was to be paid within three months from the issuance of the approval to purchase. Mrs. Williams produced government issued receipts dated February 5th 2008, where she made payments on both properties.
On February 15th, 2008, the Government of Belize, under the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a press release advising the general public of the suspension of land title and lease hold issuances at the Land Registry while an assessment of these sections of the Ministry was conducted. The suspension was scheduled to end on 14th March 2008.
Since then, all transactions in regards to the Colonia San Diego project have come to a halt. Mrs. Williams claims that since then she has been trying consistently to find out how she can pay for the two parcels of property that was allotted to her, to no avail. She was issued a second Land Purchase Approval on October 16th, 2009. As with her first approval, this one also stated that she had three months in which to make her first installment. The Assessed value of the property at this point had slightly increased. Ms. Williams states, “I’m not worried about the price. I just want to pay for my lots that I got for my two children. But they will not let me pay for it.”Since receiving the purchase approval, Mrs. Williams claims that she has made several attempts to purchase the property but was told by an officer in the Lands Dept. that the properties are frozen.
Mrs. Williams further states that at this point, her main concern is the clause on the document which states, “The first installment of (*) of the purchase price of land must be paid to the Lands and Surveys Office in Belize City within three (3) months from the date of approval. If it is not paid the approval will be void.” While it is not official, she fears that she will lose the two parcels of land by no fault of hers, as she claims she has been trying to make payments but her money is being refused with no explanation.
Mrs. Williams’ husband finds himself in a situation very unlike hers. Mr. Williams was issued a land purchase approval on November 15th 2007. He has produced a government issued receipt which shows that he paid the entire purchase amount to the Government of Belize on January 17th 2008. Mr. Williams has since been trying to acquire the title for the plot of land without success. To date, Mr. Williams claims he still does not have the title to the land he paid for in 2008.
In an interview with Hon. Mr. Manuel Heredia, he clarified that discrepancies in the issuance process was discovered early in 2008 and that in some cases individuals were issued up to ten lots. Heredia explains that “Some individuals would have owned an entire block. I don’t think it is right and fair for any one person to have that many lots, when there are people that have lived here on the island for a very long period of time, but don’t have any land to call their own.” Hon. Heredia went on to explain that as a result, the ministry did place a freeze on any further transactions that would involve the lots that were issued. In an effort to encourage fairness in the land distribution process, individuals who have receipts of initial payments or any supporting documentation that they had made efforts to pay and acquire titles to lands that were issued are invited to make an appointment with the Minister and present their case.
Though the project is still frozen, individuals may obtain a letter of recommendation from the Minister, which in turn can be taken to the lands department in Belmopan. After consideration by the individuals involved, the applicant would be issued a second Land Purchase Approval Form. Mr. Heredia explained that “Even with my recommendation, that is no guarantee that a person will indeed get the land that they had originally applied for. The last word is left to the Minister responsible for lands.” This process can take up to over a year from the time of the application to the time a title is issued.
Hon. Manuel Heredia apologizes for any inconvenience that has been caused to the residents of San Pedro, and encourages individuals that have concerns to please contact him at his office at 226-3032 or in closing Heredia stated, “Even if you see me driving my golf cart on the streets, I invite you to stop me and I will discuss your concerns and try to work with you.”