Red tape slashed for home buyers from overseas
A streamlined system for overseas buyers to acquire homes in Bermuda has been approved by MPs.
Wayne Furbert, the Cabinet Office minister said the legislation would "better facilitate the sale of property to international buyers".
Mr Furbert added that the amendments could reduce the time it took to obtain a land licence from six months to just four weeks.
He said many regulations drafted in 2007 to govern the purchase of property by non-Bermudians were "cumbersome" and had proved to be redundant, which had resulted in "unacceptable and frustrating delays"
Mr Furbert admitted the red tape had caused some wealthy buyers to withdraw their interest.
The Government will also no longer have to publicise property purchases overseas buyers in the Official Gazette.
Mr Furbert added questionnaires will be less "inquisitive", and potential buyers will only need to submit one set of plans rather than three sets.
Mr Furbert told the House of Assembly last Friday that a review of the regulations for land licences started with consultation with real estate agents and property lawyers last year.
He said: "Government has sometimes put in place legislation and policies with good intent which may be good at the moment but over time create inefficiencies within Government.
"There have been considerable delays in the processing applications of alien land licences. Many of these delays have ranged in excess of six months resulting in some properties not being sold.
"Several realtors have raised concerns about the length of time it takes for overseas buyers to purchase property that they are eligible to acquire.
"Processing delays negatively affected sales. Potential buyers had lost interest and withdrawn from purchases. The processing impediments also represented a loss of revenue to the Government."
Mr Furbert highlighted out that licence applications had to be gazetted to allow for objections to be filed.
But he said that, in the last 13 years, only one objection had been made about a licence – and had proved to be groundless.
Mr Furbert said that application forms asked for information from potential buyers that was "intrusive and irrelevant" – such as the need for an applicant to provide details of the nationalities of their parents and spouse.
He added: "That information has no bearing at all on the decision making process – the Bill seeks to remove the requirement of this useless information.“
Responsibility for approval of land purchases will shift from the Ministry of Immigration to the Cabinet Office ministry.
Jarion Richardson, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, welcomed the legislation.
He said: "If there is one thing that small business folks now as well as real estate brokers and legal experts know, it's that we have a lot of red tape and that slows down many of our business processes.
"When we have a high net worth individual who's coming into Bermuda and they have an option of living in a number of different places, something that takes six to eight months is quite embarrassing.
“That's a lot of work and I'm glad that the minister and his staff have detected that a lot of it is redundant."
But Mr Richardson questioned the decision to drop the requirement for applications to be gazetted.
He said it was important for the process to remain transparent.
Mr Richardson added: "We only have so much land and we do have to be protective of it and protective of our reputation as well.
"The gazetting process isn't just a bureaucratic or technical detail – it's our ability to oversee governance.
"As we go into an adverse economic climate, we already have a narrative of political corruption in our public debate and we are only increasing that. It's important we keep these provisions in place.“
He said that the gazetting process only took two weeks and could be completed inside the target time frame of four weeks.
Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, asked why the process was being shifted from the ministry of immigration to the ministry of the cabinet office.
He said: "If it can be streamlined in Cabinet Office why not in Immigration offices?“
He also asked if overseas home buyers would get help with immigration matters.
He said: "When you get the licence is it attached to some type of residential permit and, if so, is that going to be processed by Cabinet or the immigration department and how long will that process take?"
Mr Furbert told Mr Simons that the two ministries would be work together.