Compulsory acquisition

Stabroek News
June 28, 2001

President Bharrat Jagdeo's initiative to purchase a property in Water street for the vendors to ply their wares is in principle a good move. The vendors need a place to do business and they believe that this will be a suitable site. It can therefore provide a solution to a serious social problem and it will give the vendors the opportunity to show their enterprise and ability by getting together to construct suitable premises if the site is obtained. We recall the vendors had developed a proposal along those lines with the assistance of their legal adviser, Mr Nigel Hughes.

The President or the city council will therefore no doubt approach the owner to discuss the possibility of purchasing the property at current market value. If the owner is willing to sell, funds for the purchase would have to be arranged. The vendors would also have to finalise their plans for building and for the allocation of space.

If the owner does not wish to sell the issue will then be whether the government has the right of compulsory acquisition. The recently amended Article l42 (l) of the Constitution provides as follows: "No property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of, and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired, except by or under the authority of a written law and where provision applying to that acquisition or taking of possession is made by a written law requiring the prompt payment of adequate compensation".

The amendment restored the protection provided to property owners in the original l966 constitution to receive prompt and adequate compensation if their property was acquired by the State for public purposes. That protection was removed by the Burnham government and property owners were thereafter compensated under a formula based on l939 prices plus certain additions which in effect put them at the mercy of the State. Several owners of real estate and of businesses received far less than market value from the government.

The law governing the compulsory acquisition of land is the Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes Act. That Act will also require amendment to reintroduce the prompt and adequate compensation formula brought back by the constitutional amendment and also to delete the provision for compensation to be satisfied by the issue of land bonds. It may also be worth updating the generally archaic provisions of the Act.

One final legal issue would remain. Could this be said to be an acquisition for public purposes? That might depend on how the project is formulated. Normally, something is only adjudged to be for public purposes if it is for use by the state and not, for example, by another company or person(s). The government will no doubt take advice from the Attorney General on this issue if it becomes necessary. It is important, especially at a time when private investment is being urgently sought that property rights be respected and dealt with according to law.