COCKBURN TOWN, San Salvador — Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance the Hon. Zhivargo Laing made it clear during a town meeting in San Salvador that Dorothy Black-Beal is the only person found holding a Clear Title to 22.8 acres of land, which was at the centre of a dispute among families on the island.
“The Attorney General’s Office has confirmed that all documentation supplied and provided to us in relation to her claim to that piece of property is certain,” Mr Laing said on Friday, December 17.
“That means to the extent we can determine, the claim she makes in respect to that property, is a claim, which has evidentiary information to support it and we cannot refute it, and we therefore cannot continue to prevent her from doing anything on a piece of property, which she has title to,” he added.
The property known as Fortune Hill has been a source of contention among various families who have claimed the land after speculation that there is buried treasure in and around a cave on it. Mr Laing had travelled to the island in 2008 to address members of the community after hearing of a number of individuals digging for the treasure and friction occurring as a result.
He initially went down to inform the community how things would operate from the Government’s point of view. Mr Laing had indicated that there would be no activity taking place on the property to the extent that the Government could stop it, until the Ministry of Finance had come to some determination about who held the Title to the property. He had promised to return and inform all interested persons on the findings of the Ministry in relation to any Title to properties.
“Clearly,” Mr Laing said, “we have taken a lot of time to gather as much information as we could to make some determinations about the property, all of the claims and speculations about this property on Fortune Hill.”
He also explained that the only reason why he is still involved as Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance is that Treasure Trove under the laws of The Bahamas falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Finance. Anyone in The Bahamas who discovers anything in the way of treasure has a duty to go to the Minister of Finance and enter into an agreement with the Minister of Finance as to how that treasure can be disposed of, he said.
“It is a legal binding arrangement. It might say that 20 per cent of it must go here, 30 per cent of it must go there; whatever the deal is, there is a negotiation done between the Minister of Finance and the individual or those individuals, and the disposition takes place only after that is signed and only in accordance with that agreement.”
Mrs Beal and her agents have asked for permission to go ahead and begin researching the area to determine any findings in relation to what they believe may be there, Mr Laing said. She is going to have to apply to the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation for permission to do her initial speculating, he explained.
“If in the course of her excavating or whatever she does makes any findings, she and her agents will then return and begin to talk to me about what they have found and what is to be done about what they have found,” Mr Laing said. “When people have Title to their property, the State has no duty outside of the public’s interest from preventing them from doing what they want on their property.
“You can dispute ownership all you want; that is your business. If you want to dispute it, go to court,” he said.
Mrs Black-Beal and her principals will have the benefit of a letter from the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation; they will have the benefit of some interaction with the Administrator’s Office and there will be some interaction with the Police so that law and order may be maintained, Mr Laing said.