Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Land wrongs (not land rights)

At work this week we are having a team-building workshop. It's an interesting workshop, if nothing else because we have gotten the opportunity to get to know each other in a way that doesn't have anything to do with budget management or signing paperwork. In one get-to-know-you exercise, we had to talk about something in our past that has had influence in our present lives. I was really struck by the story of one colleague. I'll call him Carlos (not his real name).

Carlos has worked for us for about 10 years, rising through the ranks. He's about my age, around 32. He's about to get married and in preparation, last year he decided to buy some land to eventually build a house on.

Buying land here is a very tricky, complicated process. To avoid any scams, he decided to buy the land through the municipal land office. He went with them to look at the property, signed all the necessary paperwork and gave them all the money. (Around $30,000.) A few weeks after buying the land, he went to check it out and start plotting out where he was going to build the house. To his surprise, he saw a construction crew there, laying cement. He asked what they were doing, and he discovered that the municipality had sold the land to someone else.

He went to the municipality to find out what had happened. It turns out that someone in the municipality had forgotten to file a piece of minor paperwork, so they put the property back on the market and sold it. Carlos was obviously upset, so he demanded to speak to the person's superior and get some answers. Apparently this was totally unreasonable, so they put him in jail. For 4 days.

Carlos's brother is a police officer, so he was able to influence a little and get Carlos out after the four days. After shelling out all that money for land (money which just disappeared) he couldn't afford to hire a lawyer. Luckily, he was able to find a public advocate who decided to take up his case.

The municipality refused to acknowledge the mistake and tried to put the blame on him. He asked for his money back and they refused to give it to him. Finally, the municipality offered to find him a similar plot of land and give it to him.

The story is pretty outrageous. But what impressed me the most was Carlos's reaction. Rather than be bitter about everything, he managed to put a positive spin on it. "Now maybe they will change their behavior, because word has gotten out about what happened. They won't be able to do it to others anymore"

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