PM sends fraud squad, revenue agents into land titles office
PM orders second probe at titles office
Friday, February 22, 2002
PRIME Minister P J Patterson yesterday said that he had sent the Police Fraud Squad as well as revenue authorities into the Titles Division of the National Land Agency to probe cases of "widespread evasion of taxes and duties" uncovered by foreign investigators.
Patterson also said all relevant government agencies are being mobilised to assist with the probe and that the land and environment minister, Horace Dalley, will make a statement on the matter to Parliament next Tuesday.
According to Patterson, the government became aware of "a number of irregularities" in the Land Titles Division last year and called in professional investigators from abroad to follow up the case.
Patterson did not say from where the investigators came. However, he said that they had uncovered "a number of serious findings" and that because of the "critical nature of the Titles Division" more rigorous investigations were required.
"The issue of land and its effective titling affect the financial security of countless families and businesses right across the country and go to the very heart of our economic prospects and social well-being," said Patterson who yesterday started a three-day retreat with his Cabinet to shape the country's upcoming budget.
Two years ago, the director of public prosecutions launched a high profile criminal investigation into what the Appeal Court described as a "studied conspiracy" by the Registrar of Titles and Clarendon Parish Council to issue illegal land titles to a developer. The Appeal Court ruling, issued in December 2000, said that the case "raises important issues of public law involving the Registrar of Titles and those public servants who issued the titles".
While stopping short of accusing the Registrar and Parish Council of deliberate corruption, the Appeal Court found that breaches of the Land Development and Registration of Titles acts had been committed.
Up to last year, approximately half of the 650,000 parcels of land on the valuation roll in Jamaica were still not registered. The Government launched a major drive to get them registered, saying that people on unregistered land often paid no local taxes, depriving parish councils of important sources of revenue.