Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 17th 2014 Contents After a lag of six years,
the Ministry of Finance
has begun approving
licences for the pur-
chase of land in Toba-
go. Tobago House of
Assembly (THA) Chief
Secretary Orville Lon-
don said there was no ban in granting licences
to purchase land in Tobago, but that the prob-
lem stemmed from the long delay in the admin-
London said the process was cumbersome,
but that has been "streamlined as far as I
know and therefore the process is much easier
In 2007, the Ministry of Finance proclaimed
provisions of the Foreign Investment Tobago
Land Acquisition Order 2007 (FITLAO) in
accordance with the provisions of the Foreign
Investment Tobago Land Acquisition Order
2007. The order was signed by then acting
Minister of Finance Conrad Enill and published
two days later in the Gazette as Legal Notice
No 63 of 2007.
London said the process starts in Tobago
and is then passed on to the Ministry of
Finance for approval.
"What I can say is that both the THA and
the Ministry of Finance, all efforts are being
made to facilitate and to fast track bonafide
applications. The whole purpose was to have
an environment in which speculation is dis-
couraged and investment is encouraged."
London said some people who were pur-
chasing land in the sister isle were "not nec-
essarily doing anything with the land."
He spoke to the Business Guardian last Fri-
day via in a telephone interview about the
A legal perspective
Attorney Christo Gift said even though many
licences have not been granted for lands in
Tobago, the process is ongoing.
"There was a period of time when no
licences were being granted, but this changed
a year ago," he said, adding that the process
still takes too long.
There are times when licences are granted
"They have designated an investment area---
Crown Point---if a foreigner wanted to invest
in a business there, he would get smooth
sailing if he wanted to invest there. The THA
would support it, the Tourism Division," he
Asked whether it is prudent to have ease in
obtaining a licence for some areas as opposed
to others, Gift said: "The argument was being
made when it was expedient to do so, that this
Foreign Investment Act which was brought in
by the NAR. You have to remember that, at
the time, this issue was at its highest, the NAR
was still in office in Tobago. It became the
PNM s issue to try to dig out the NAR in Tobago
by labouring this point about the price of land."
Gift said the increase in the price of land
in Tobago "cuts two ways."
"For those who had valuable land (due to)
either the sea frontage or the general view, it
was a bad investment for locals because of
the money you have to spend to build anything
proper there. For a foreigner, that s a goldmine
in the context of the view you get. They come
with the money. Six to one as it is with the
American dollar and ten to one as it is with
the English. They saw value in those lands.
Tobagonians suddenly had something very
profitable. They sold it so they benefited.
"The spin-off was that as they sold the lands
at this high rate, it caused the value of the
lands in that area to immediately appreciate.
Locals who wanted to buy land found the prices
were just going up and up and out of their
Another issue surrounding the granting of
licences was that of regularising land given to
"If people were trying to regularise family
land and distribute it among family, the land,
although it was being conveyed among family,
was valued in such a rate that it became taxable
in a way that people now found it expensive
to try to regularise land. When they did the
deed of gift, the Inland Revenue people would
send it for valuation and the value that they
would come back with was so high---because
of the general appreciation in land values---
they could not pay the taxes to the State to
do the simple conveyance."
A deed of gift is used among family members
"because the deed does not reflect a price."
"In order for the Inland Revenue to determine
what tax is to be paid on that transaction, they
have to value it and that is where people coming
in to do deeds of gift got hit. When the Inland
Revenue valued the lands, it moved from about
$50,000 to $300,000 and the tax on that is
quite expensive," Gift said.
"When incited by politicians, the PNM politi-
cians, in particular, they pushed. Tobagonians
are being punished by the Foreign Investment
Act because now you can t buy land, it s too
"Foreigners are buying out the land. In fact,
it was a fable that the Germans were buying
it out. The politics had become so refined that
when people talking about Germans buying
out your land, the injection was a very negative
one for locals."
Gift said the English were the ones buying
up land under the PNM administration.
"After the licence came in, there was a back-
lash where the value of land plummeted. Busi-
nesses which depended on real estate virtually
became extinct because nothing could get done.
Foreigners weren t coming to invest in Tobago
anymore because they had to get a licence,
and that was uncertain."
A real estate broker speaks
Natalie Mahabir, a real estate broker with
Caribbean Estate Lands and Villas, said the
real estate market is improving, but she could
not determine if it favoured buyers or sellers.
She said when licences were being distributed,
the market was still suffering the consequences
of the global economic downturn.
Mahabir is optimistic that the market will
"The market is quite buoyant now, but the
foreigners, I find, are still very hesitant in
terms of coming back to buy in Tobago. I have
found, from experience, that the granting of
the licences is very slow. It is supposed to take
20 working days. I have not had any that has
been granted in less than four months. Some
have taken nine months. I have two applica-
tions in one of the designated zones where all
the required information have been submitted
and we have been waiting 20 months now
and we still haven t gotten a reply."
Mahabir said the system of granting a licence
is not efficient enough.
"I think foreign investment is discouraging,
the way the system is working or not working
APRIL 2014 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG5
THA Chief Secretary:
Tobago starts issuing
licences to buy land
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