The passion with which the callers to Q95 expressed their concerns over the indifference and uncaring disposition of the Skerrit-led Administration in dealing with the farmers who are squatting on lands that are compulsorily acquired by the State for the alleged construction of an international airport did not escape our attention.
Clearly, the DLP government, particularly the Parliamentary Representative of the Wesley constituency -DisHon. Fidel Grant, who is also the Minister of Agriculture, appears to be cold, insensitive, and completely detached in addressing the plight of the people. The government is interacting with the constituents in an unprofessional, inhumane, and unfair manner, contrary to what would be expected of a compassionate Parl. Rep, albeit with a limited understanding of the status of the law in dealing with farmers who are squatting on lands compulsorily acquired by the state. The gross arrogance of the DisHon. Parl. Rep in attacking his constituents is unbecoming, and despicable to say the least.
The violent, thoughtless, heavy-handed, and graceless manner employed by the Skerrit-led DLP government in evicting young, hardworking farmers from the lands acquired or intended to be acquired by the State supposedly for the construction of houses to relocate villagers who will be displaced on lands allegedly earmarked for construction of the CBI Skerrit International Airport of Dominica is reprehensible. The government pays no regard to the need to afford farmers sufficient time to harvest their crops, save their plants, and to move chattel property from the acquired lands and has failed to negotiate, pay reasonable compensation or provide for the relocation of these farmers as required by law, irrespective of whether or not the government possesses the moral fiber required to effectively deal with such situations.
The uncaring, callous, and seemingly partisan approach of the Skerrit-led DLP government ought to be a serious cause for concern to the people of the Wesley/Woodford Hill constituency, Dominicans and conscientious citizens of the world. We have heard the testimonies detailing the unannounced destruction of the large cultivations of plantains and tree crops of farmers, who are known to be supporters of the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) without any prior evaluation of the crops or discussion of compensation by the government. The DLP government’s reliance on a warning letter issued over a year ago, pending acquisition of the property does not absolve the government from its moral and legal responsibilities towards the people occupying the lands that are subject to compulsory acquisition by the government.
It is clear to the average Dominican that the government should have provided the young farmer reasonable time to harvest/remove his crops and planting materials for the relocation of his farm before clearing the land. Moreover, in accordance with the expressed words and the intent of the Notice Letter issued to the young farmer, he was advised by the Chief of Lands and Surveys that failure to leave the compulsorily acquired land would result in legal action being taken against him as required in law. The young man never refused to vacate but the government breached its own condition and brazenly chose to violate the law. The officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Surveys took the law into their hands and arrogantly chose to execute their functions guided by the declared Skerrit’s doctrine of “No-law, No-Constitution!”
The sudden destruction of the entire cultivation of the young farmer without any concern for his wellbeing and that of his family, and without due process in law is heartless and must be condemned by all people with a good conscience- irrespective of party persuasion. In another case, a prominent and productive farmer who is closely affiliated with the opposition, United Workers Party received inadequate compensation for tree crops after a prolonged period of begging the government for some form of compensation. He was paid a meager $15.00 for each grapefruit tree, $50 for a breadfruit tree, $48.00 for an avocado tree and $100.00for a mango tree, rates that are significantly below comparable commercial rates.
Squatter’s rights as Human rights
Beyond the issue of ’eminent domain’ itself, there is the troublesome issue of ‘adverse possession’ of property or ‘Squatter’s rights,’ which is a very contentious method of acquiring property rights. Squatter’s right is a legal allowance to use the property of another in the absence of any attempt by the legal owner to force eviction. The equitable right obtained by the occupier through years of undisturbed occupation may eventually be converted to legal ownership title to the property by adverse possession, which is recognized in law.
In general, a property owner has the right to recover possession of their property from unauthorized possessors through legal action such as ejectment. However, someone who occupies a piece of property without permission, where the property’s owner does not exercise his/her legal rights to recover the property for a significant period of time may replace the original owner via new title to the property by the adverse possession. A person claiming adverse possession is usually required to prove non-permissive/uninterrupted use of the property.
The Title by Registration (Possessory and Qualified Title) Regulations (Cap. 56:50) of the Commonwealth of Dominica provides, “land not registered under this Act may be so registered –
If the land has been in the sole and undisturbed possession of the applicant alone in his own right or as executor, administrator or trustee, or partly in the sole and undisturbed possession of the applicant in any such L.R.O.11.1991 right and partly in the sole and undisturbed possession of any other person through whom he claims, continuously for a period of [thirty years] next before the date of the presentation of the request under this Act; (e) if the land has been compulsorily acquired by the Government for a public purpose and has vested absolutely in the State by virtue of the Land Acquisition Act”
The laws of Dominica provides that a landowner could lose ownership of his /her lawfully owned land to another person where that individual has been in undisturbed, uninterrupted, and continuous possession of the land in question (for at least 12 years ). The rightful legal owner must not have objected to the presence of the adverse possessor during the period.
International law recognizes that individuals with an equitable interest in property such as squatters on State lands are entitled to respect of their human rights, which is a legal limitation to the power of the State. International human rights law demands that when dealing with squatters on State lands, it is necessary that the government exercise a balanced approach to the compulsory acquisition or destruction of property on acquired State lands. The government must respect the human rights of the owner of the property and also the occupants of the land acquired. Anytime the government claims private property for a public purpose, it must fairly compensate the legal owners for the loss of the legal property and also to the loss to the occupier of the said property.