LLUIDAS VALE, St Catherine — Several residents of Pleasant Hill in this section of St Catherine North Western are appealing for clarity and mercy as they dread losing houses and other belongings that they have on properties belonging to the State.
The rural community has been blanketed by uncertainty since Thursday evening when residents were served with notices ordering them to vacate the property by December 6.
“If you fail to cease occupation, vacate and deliver up possession of the said property, as required under the terms of this notice, you will be forcibly evicted,” the notice threatened.
Pleasant Hill residents said letters were hand-delivered to about 100 of them on the same day that the Government began demolition of illegally constructed structures in Clifton, St Catherine.
The notice explained: “The reason for requiring you to cease occupation, vacate and deliver up possession of and remove any fencing and or temporary structure(s) erected on the said property is that you are in illegal possession of property which is owned by the Commissioner of Lands.”
The notice bears the signature of a lawyer purportedly representing the Commissioner of Lands and is dated Thursday, October 6.
When the Jamaica Observer contacted the National Land Agency (NLA) on Friday, a representative requested that queries regarding the notice and land in question be sent via e-mail. That was done, but no response was forthcoming up to publication time.
Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Western Hugh Graham lamented not being informed ahead of the notices being served.
“I haven’t been invited to a meeting with the Government to see what is happening, what their plans are, if they have engaged the residents, and what alternate arrangements are in place, etcetera,” he said. “I don’t understand how the Government believes it can treat people like that as if it is okay; it is not okay. At least have town hall meetings and say whatever it is that you have to say and take the people along with you. We can’t be so dictatorial.”
Some residents said they had been having amicable discussions with the NLA regarding becoming legitimate owners of the property.
“They said the next person that would be coming would be a surveyor, and they are not going to push the people off the land,” Andrea Duhaney claimed on Friday, adding that she and her family have been living in the community for more than three decades.
According to her, the notices caught residents totally off-guard.
“We expected to hear that the land is ready to survey so that people can get titles, only to see dem come with notice showing that we are to vacate the land,” she said.
Duhaney, like other residents, told the Sunday
Observer that they have invested heavily in the properties over the years.
A number of them inherited parts of the property from their foreparents while others bought from people who once cultivated sugarcane on it to be sold to the nearby Worthy Park Sugar Estate.
A few years ago when the price for sugar cane decreased drastically, a number of the small farmers sold the parcels of land they occupied. Several people made purchases at relatively low costs and started to build houses.
Before the recent influx of people, a few residents lived on the land unhindered.
Fredrick Moiten, who said he has been living there for 50 years, is apprehensive about the very thought of leaving.
“This can’t be a right thing, because everybody waan live somewhere fi mek yuhself comfortable. Which part wi a go move to with woman and children and everything?” he asked.
Jerome Young, 34, who was born and raised in the community, commented: “This… caught everybody by surprise.”