Gender and Land Rights Database

Trinidad and Tobago

Prevailing systems of land tenure

- There are two main land tenure regimes in the country, privately owned land and public land. There is also some land owned by State enterprises.

Estimates indicate that there are approximately 420 000 individual parcels, of which 334 000 privately owned and 86 000 of State Land that are leased or held by the Government. There is also a high number of un-known parcels, which have resulted from informal and undocumented subdivisions of lands. In 1999, 47,1 percent of the households in the country did not have adequate documentation of rights to the land on which their houses are built. In the agricultural sector only 46 percent of privately owned parcels and 18,6 percent of State agricultural land parcels were found to have adequate documentation of rights.

There are at least 30 000 households squatting on State lands and also parcels of land occupied under informal or customary tenure regimes, family land in particular (25).

 

- Over two-thirds of all parcels fall into the two major tenure categories of freehold and rental/leasehold; squatted parcels account for an additional 16 percent. Under the larger categories of freehold and leasehold are two informal tenure categories which account for the remainder of parcels: rent-free and family land tenure.

The great majority of parcels under freehold tenure originated from purchases either by the holders themselves or by their ascendants.

Rented and leased parcel constitute the largest tenure category, accounting for over 40 percent of all agricultural parcels. Despite some common features, this set of parcels is highly differentiated according to whether the land involved is public or private and, on public land, according to the agency or authority administering the land.

Over three-quarters of agricultural tenancies are annual, while most of these annual tenancies have been in effect for many years.


- Squatting, or the unauthorized occupation and use of land, is a widespread phenomenon in the country. Popular legitimacy of squatting is based on cultural and historical elements. The most notable of these is the high value placed on the clearing and active use and cultivation of land as a way to establish rights. This is something even the law recognizes in weighing cases of alleged squatting. Also pertinent in shaping people’s views on squatting has been the historical evolution of tenure relations. Many who are now squatting on public lands are people who, two or three decades ago, were renting the land from private estate owners before these people sold out to the current owners. Grandparents may have been labourers on those estates. As ownership has shifted to the state, the status of those already on the land has tended either not to be recognized or incorporated into the new tenure order.

 

- The rent-free form of tenure is the result of informal inheritance practices. There is the popular perception that states leases, whether documented or not, are inheritable or transferable to heirs. In many cases such transfers take place while the parent is still alive but approaching an age when farming has become too difficult.
Informal, rent-free arrangements are not only restricted to relatives. Land is often given rent-free by people who no longer can use it to those who can and need the land (17).

 

- The communal system of land tenure in the country is known as family land. The term family land denotes interest in land that is, by internal group rules, both unalienable to agents external to the family and indivisible to members within the family. Such interest may have been acquired by the family through historic possession and occupation or by cognatic descent from the original legally registered holder (16). While family land is usually associated with private lands, it sometimes emerges on state land (17).

National and local institutions enforcing land regulations

- The Land Tribunal has jurisdiction:
i. to hear and determine appeals against a decision of the Adjudication Officer made under the Land Adjudication Act, or to review any recording, cancellation of recording, any revision of registration, or any decision of the Registrar made under the Registration of Titles to Land Act and to direct any correction thereof;
ii. to hear a claim for compensation under the Registration of the Titles to Land Act; and
iii. to hear and determine any other matter that may be assigned to it by Order. 

An appeal against a decision of the Tribunal may be filed with the Court of Appeal (20).

 

- The Land Reclamation Committee of Trinidad and Tobago reviews applications for land reclamation and makes recommendations to cabinet in respect of these applications (15).

Land administration institutions and women quotas

- The Ministry of Agriculture Land and Marine Resources manages state-owned Agricultural Lands. The role of the Land Administration Division through the Ministry’s decentralized Regional Land Units is to ensure that the selection, distribution and regularization and management of Agricultural State Lands are carried out in an efficient and cost effective manner and to ensure their productive utilization.

The activities of the Ministry’s Regional Land Units are largely related to Lease Regulation and Information Management of the State’s agricultural tenants. Activities involve the gathering, storage and retrieval of information in order to carry out the regulatory functions associated with ensuring that tenants observe lease conditions.


- The Development of the National Agricultural Land Management Information System -NALMIS- is currently being deployed with the objective to: i.  update the database of 16 537 of tenanted or occupied state agricultural lands; ii. realize the inventory of agricultural squatters on state lands in Trinidad; iii. create an inventory of privately-owned agricultural lands and other state lands used for Agriculture (15).

 

- The Commissioner of State Lands in the Ministry of Planning, Housing and Environment is the legal landlord and is responsible for the overall administration of the entire system. Today, however, the duties of the Commissioner are performed by the Director of Surveys, head of the Lands and Surveys Division of the Ministry of Planning and Mobilization.

With respect to protected areas activity, the Commissioner, with the assistance of the Director of Forestry, is supposed to prevent squatting and encroachment upon protected areas and to remove squatters when this occurs.

- The Chief State Solicitor’s Office in the Ministry of Legal Affairs is responsible for drafting the leases. The District Revenue Officers of the Ministry of Finance’s Inland Revenue Division have the responsibility of collecting rents (17).

 

- Lands and Surveys Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources is responsible for managing existing Cadastral and Survey records (15).

 

- The Land Registry, under the Registrar General’s Department of the Ministry of Legal Affairs manages land title documents registration following the sale, assent or mortgage of land (26).

Funding provisions to guarantee women’s land transactions

- Grants and loans to young persons to establish agricultural enterprises are provided for under the Youth Widow Project of the Agriculture Development Bank -ADB. Fifty percent of the total number of assignees is women (19).

 

- A revolving credit scheme managed by the Network of Rural Women Producers (NRWP) offers loans of up to US$900 to its members (19).

 

- While there are many institutions involved in providing assistance to persons involved in business, few have special incentives for assisting women. Despite the absence of such encouragement women have increasingly been gaining access to financial services. Some of the institutions which provide such assistance include: the Agricultural Development Bank; the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation; Inter-American Institute for Co-operation in Agriculture; Credit Unions (19).

 

- The Women’s Responsive Sou Sou Banking System is based on the African traditional system known as Sou Sou. It assists women, especially low income ones, who do not have access to commercial bank accounts. The objectives are: to work with rural and urban low-income women teaching them wealth creating practices and enterprises; to mobilize, generate and deliver cooperative community and personal resources for productive and life enhancing ventures; to promote gender-compliant and women friends democratic practices and leadership at all levels of governance
The programme is run by the Network of NGOs of Trinidad & Tobago for the Advancement of Women. 

Other factors influencing gender differentiated land rights

- Due to the fact that women have become large earners in female-headed households and nuclear families, men’s role as breadwinners and heads of the household has been eroded. As a consequence, the already entrenched attitudes which perpetuate gender-based violence are aggravated by the men’s desire to re-empower themselves (19).



- Gender violence is endemic in the country. During the first four years since the inception of the Domestic Violence Act, 88297 requests for protection were filed. About 86 percent of the cases of domestic violence are perpetuated by men against women (19).



- Due to the fact that few women are owners of property and as such cannot provide collateral to financial institution, women are hampered in their access to credit (19).



- In annual state leases, which in practice frequently last for decades, descendants are not allowed to inherit by will. They must appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture for the transfer, which in turn must be approved by the Cabinet. This is a lengthy and discouraging process, and many skirt the risk of being turned down by simply reaching informal arrangements among themselves. The result is a proliferation of lease documents which refer to deceased former lessees, not to the actual occupants (17).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography