Should the National Trust be allowed to seize property

When it comes to protecting the natural and cultural heritage of any country, swift, decisive action is vital whenever this heritage is threatened. Once a culturally significant site is gone, it can never be recovered. Once a natural habitat is destroyed, it can never be brought back.

For an organisation like the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, which is tasked with protecting the heritage of the Cayman Islands, obtaining properties to hold in trust for the Cayman people has always relied on finding the funds to buy properties in the open market. Even though the Trust has used this method to great effect thus far, budget constraints, as well as a lack of a willing seller, can hold back the protection of Cayman’s heritage. But should the rights of property owners supersede the interests of the country at large? Would it help if the Trust were able to expropriate or seize property in order to protect it?

The precedent has been set in other parts of the world, where government can expropriate property if it is deemed to be necessary, whether for the construction of infrastructure or for the establishment of nature reserves. The measure is usually only instituted when a willing buyer, willing seller agreement cannot be reached, and even then government will still pay a fair market price for the property. However, the knowledge that expropriation can follow the failure of a negotiated sale does give added impetus to a seller to come to an agreement, rather than holding out for more money at the risk of expropriation. It would seem like a power the National Trust would leap at, as it should make its mission much easier to accomplish.

However, the National Trust does not want the power to expropriate or seize property, and for a very good reason.

“Let me state categorically that the National Trust does not have the power to expropriate nor do we want that power. We buy property at fair market value, unless the owner agrees to donate all or a part of the property. And we have never placed pressure on a property owner to donate,” said Frank Balderamos, general manager of the National Trust.

“We also have entered into 99 year leases with property owners, thus allowing them to ensure protection of their property by the Trust, while also guaranteeing their descendants will retain ownership.”

The mission of the Trust is “To preserve natural environments and places of historic significance in the Cayman Islands for present and future generations.” The Trust does this by holding properties in trust for the people of the Cayman Islands. However, if the Trust were to begin expropriating properties, it would effectively end up giving with the one hand while taking with the other. Due to a great reliance on donations to supplement its Government grant, expropriation would also whittle away at the goodwill of the community the Trust relies on for its continued success.

“The current and future generations of Caymanians are the beneficiaries of this Trust and they are assured that any property owned by the Trust will be protected in perpetuity,” said Balderamos.

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