Changes to laws outlaw land sales to foreignersView(s):
Aimed at safeguarding rights of Lankans while Embassies/High Commissions are exempted
By Chandani Kirinde
Amendments to several land related laws are being drafted to enforce the recent Cabinet decision taken to prohibit the sale of both State and privately owned lands to foreigners, officials said. Among the existing legislation that would be amended to enforce the ban are the Registration of Documents Ordinance, the Notaries Ordinance and the Title Registration Act, as well as the State Land Ordinance.
“The new land laws are aimed at safeguarding the land rights of Sri Lankans,” Ministry of Lands and Land Development Secretary Asoka Peiris said. The Cabinet Paper was jointly submitted by Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister John Seneviratne and Lands and Land Development Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, as the registration of lands is a function that comes under the Public Administration Ministry, and hence, much of the related legislation will be drafted by that Ministry.
Public Administration Ministry Secretary P.B. Abeykoon said that, with the amendments to the Notaries Ordinance, it will be an offence to certify any document relating to the outright transfer or alienation of lands to a foreign national, while under the amendments to the Title Registration Act, it will be an offence to register the title of a land sold to a foreigner.
The Cabinet paper states that the decision to prohibit the sale of land to foreigners has been taken due to the increasing demand for foreign investments, with the expansion of development activities undertaken by the Government. There is also a growing demand for land by locals, especially for tourism related projects, it said. Lands Ministry Secretary Peiris said this is a good proposal. “Earlier, foreigners could buy private land paying double the applicable stamp duty, even though buying Crown land was prohibitied. They could only take Crown land on long-term lease. Now, this applies also to private land,” he said,
There were no records available immediately, on how many foreigners had purchased land in Sir Lanka. But Mr. Peiris said that a “lot has been bought in Galle Fort”.
However, another source at the Land and Land Development Ministry said that foreigners have acquired over 10,000 acres of land in Sri Lanka, during the past two decades, including private land within the World Heritage Dutch Fort in Galle. There has also been a growing interest shown by foreigners in buying land in the East, after the end of the war.
The Government decision to ban the sale of land was announced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he presented the 2013 Budget to Parliament in November last year.
Along with the ban in the sale of land, the Government also introduced a 100% tax on the lease of State land to foreigners. The tax imposed will be based on the lease value determined by the Government’s Chief Valuer for the entire lease period, that has to be paid upfront, unless the prescribed investment requirement by way of a foreign remittance is exceeded.
However, these prohibitions will not apply to the purchase of lands by Embassies/High Commissions in Sri Lanka. The tax will not apply,however, to renting of property to foreigners. “If you want to rent out your property to a foreigner, it is an agreement between you and the foreigner,” Mr. Peiris said.
Of the 6.5 million hectares of Sri Lanka’s total land mass, 5.2 million hectares belong to the State.
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