MONTEGO BAY, St James — Councillor Kerry Thomas (People’s National Party, Mount Salem Division) has sought to defend the move to temporarily house a business on Government property after the court ordered its owner off another State-owned location earlier this year.
The businessman, who illegally operated a restaurant and grocery store on a sidewalk at the entrance of the Cornwall Regional Hospital, was slapped with an injunction in May, forcing its relocation. The business is now being housed at the Mount Salem Benevolent Society Community Development Committee’s (CDC) Resource Centre, a property owned by the St James Municipal Corporation (SJMC). No authorisation was given by the local authority.
Thomas, a first-term councillor, told Thursday’s sitting of the SJMC’s that though he is against illegal settlements, the business place had been long established before he became the division’s political representative.
“I would say that squatting and illegal vending is wrong in its entirety. However, at the same time, we have to recognise the shortcomings of the civil agencies in carrying out their duties and responsibilities in due time,” Thomas said.
He was responding to queries made by Councillor Charles Sinclair (Jamaica Labour Party, Montego Bay North Eastern Division) who told the meeting that he received a letter from a concerned resident of Mount Salem. Noting that the municipal corporation has been in a “battle” with the businessman for years, Sinclair said he was taken aback after learning that the man is once again occupying Government land.
“We have been having a battle up in the Mount Salem area relative to someone who constructed on a sidewalk. It has been a matter that has been raised and [individuals] fluff around it,” said Sinclair.
“Sometimes I wonder if we are serious about what we are here to do. It must be known to the public that the municipal corporation, where we sit, is a law enforcement agency and we are responsible in the parish for the maintenance of order and to ensure that every other agency and individual maintain order. The matter that I speak of in Mount Salem is one that has gone to the court.
“I am a bit taken aback that the person, who the council has an issue with in court, has ceased the operation to comply with the injunction, but has gone and taken over another [of the] council’s property,” added Sinclair.
He referenced a letter that has been widely circulated, purportedly written by a concerned resident of Mount Salem, who expressed concern that a private citizen was being allowed to “use public property for personal gain”.
Sinclair asked both the CEO of the municipal corporation Gerald Lee and Thomas to explain.
According to Lee, the municipal corporation commenced an investigation after it was made aware of the unauthorised use of the resource centre.
“The information we received is that the benevolent society gave permission to operate his business on a temporary basis. We note that the CDC does not have the authority to endorse any alternative use of the property without the consent of the municipal corporation and so we deem that action to be unauthorised. Hence, the municipal corporation will take the appropriate action to restore the property,” the CEO said in his response.
For his part, Thomas admitted that he was aware of the business being temporarily moved to the Government-owned property. He defended the decision by noting that the business provides employment to residents of the community.
“I was aware because the CDC discussed it, but the position which was taken and carried forward by the CDC is that this restaurant employs over 50 people throughout the community and it provides a service. In the request they asked for a temporary position in order to use the yard, not the resource centre, so it has not taken over the resource centre. The functionality of the resource centre remains intact,” he said.
Thomas told the council that the business should only be at the resource centre for a maximum of three months.
“They have found another location that they are setting up to relocate,” the councillor stated.