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November 2020 Must Be About ‘LAND REFORM’

November 2020 Must Be About ‘LAND REFORM’
October 19
07:21 2019

By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

Land is one of the most powerful tools used by Belizean politicians to control the masses. It features prominently in the national equation which determines political reward and punishment.

Land is often used by politicians to bribe voters: if you want a piece of land you must register in their division and promise to vote for them. If you want a piece of land, you must transfer your vote to their division even though you know full well you don’t live there.

If the old saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is true, then one can easily see how this approach to land distribution favours the incumbent politician. If you are in opposition, you can’t give away any land and so you can only promise that you will do so once elected. The trouble is that the Belizean voter has been come weary of political promises; and with good reason.

The distribution of public land is one of the gravest injustices being perpetrated upon the Belizean people; but this injustice has not been sufficient to provoke the masses to action. Why is that? How can a politician give away hundreds of acres of public land to his cronies with such impunity? And worse – how could Gapi Vega have done what he did with public lands in Carmelita and not be made to pay for his actions?

There are two main reasons for the lack of an appropriate response by the Belizean people. The first is partisan politics and the second is a deep sense of detachment from our public assets.

The recent scandal coming out of Belmopan regarding the de-reservation of a road reserve and the subsequent distribution of the said land is a case in point. You de-reserve land set aside for the future expansion of the road (a subversion of the future of Belmopan) and then you proceed to dish out the land to a chosen few (outright political cronyism)!

Despite what is clearly an ill-conceived idea, you will not hear a single UDP of any standing condemning Mayor Belisle’s actions. Instead you will hear many of them pointing to the PUP’s misdeeds of yesteryear. Even the landless UDPs will feel compelled to stand by their party with the hope that they too will be “gifted” a piece of public land in the near future. Hope can be such a terrible enabler!

The Mayor of Belmopan and his Councillors solicited the votes of hundreds if not thousands of landless Belmopanese, but when it was time to dish out the newly available land they did not look to those landless “peasants;” they remembered only the well to do. But that won’t stop the partisan support; our people have been conditioned to put party above country and this has benefitted only the politicians.

Public land is common good; it belongs to all of us but at the same time it belongs to no one; and therein lies the problem. The Belizean people have been nurtured to believe that public goods belong to the party in power, not to the people. It is this mindset that sees so many of us go so willingly to the Minister to “beg” for a piece of land. A piece of our own land!

There really is no solid reason why a government cannot give every Belizean a house lot without them having to beg for it. There is sufficient land to give every Belizean a house lot measuring 75’ x 125.’ If we were to do so today (based on the amount of land available; the current population; and the population growth rate), it would take us ninety-seven years to run out of land.

Land is the basis of all human activity: economic and otherwise. Giving every Belizean a piece of land will not automatically improve their economic standing, but it will at least provide an opportunity to do so.

In its Bill of Belizean Rights published in 2017, the People’s United Party (PUP) declared that “every Belizean should have access to a piece of land.” According to the PUP, “with land we immediately create opportunities for upliftment and personal growth.” But the PUP did not and has not said how they will grant Belizeans such access! As you know, the devil is always in the details and it might behoove the PUP to give the Belizean people the details!

The UDP has not formally articulated its view of land ownership but its practice of land distribution suggests that it will remain true to the current practice of partisan control over public lands. The current practice appears to be small parcels for a few supporters and huge parcels for the political elites. This policy all but guarantees that the majority of us will keep begging for land well into the future!

The question you must ask yourself, beloved, is what really is the real reason why none of the major political parties have pushed for true land reform? The answer lies in Mr. Barrow’s 2019 land amnesty program!

Just so you know, in 1981 we owned almost 5.6 million acres of land; in 2019 we own less than 2 million acres, yet 80% of us are landless. It is obvious that the November 2020 elections must be about land reform if we are going to change things. When they knock on your door in 2020 ask them about land reform; their answers will shock you!

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