Retirement stakeholders ignorant of illegal sale of lands

RETIREMENT, St James — Stakeholders who readily admit there is squatting taking place in sections of this community are, however, unable to substantiate or debunk Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s recent assertion in Parliament that people connected to both political parties are selling lands there.

For his part, O Dave Allen, chairman of the Retirement Development Trust, explained that while rampant squatting may be taking place in the Friendship section of Retirement, since 1996 there has been no such issue in the Retirement Phase One area after a governance structure was put in place under the now-defunct Operation Pride programme.

“What happen also is — particularly around the dump site Friendship area, close to Estuary — you have the municipal dump and it attracts all sorts of people. I understand that land is being sold around there. I don’t have to politicise it — it don’t matter if it is PNP or JLP — the Government has a responsibility to maintain development control. I do not know their political affiliations,” Allen said.

“Retirement Phase One that falls under Operation Pride is properly managed. We have been able to maintain development control in Phase One,” he continued, “but there is that certain looseness that obtains at the Friendship area. And I understand also that in Retirement Phase Two, that should have been a greenfield area. Lots were allocated but they were not developed, largely because of the infrastructure lag, so people have found solutions elsewhere. These lots are now being allocated, I understand, by persons who are not authorised to do so,” Allen said, adding that half of the Phase One residents are in possession of land titles.

Councillor Michael Troupe (People’s National Party, Granville Division) expressed that he was oblivious of any sale of the 1680-acre parcel of land.

“I am not aware of any land selling in the Retirement area. I know there is squatting, and squatting has been happening for years and that’s where Operation Pride started — because of squatting. I don’t know of any politicians selling any land. I don’t know of that,” Troupe stated.

Retirement falls in the St James West Central constituency for which Marlene Malahoo Forte is the Member of Parliament. She explained that following swirling allegations of illegal land sales in the community she has since reached out to the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) and members of the community.

“I have heard numerous allegations about illegal sale of lands in that area. As a result I have met with segments of the community and also the HAJ,” Malahoo Forte, who is also minister of legal and constitutional affairs, told the Jamaica Observer.

“There have been problems and the HAJ is working to resolve them,” she added.

Henry Duncans, a resident of Retirement Phase One, attributes the squatting taking place in sections of the community to the lack of infrastructural development in the formalised section where he resides.

He argued that Retirement Phase One should be the template for the other areas to follow but, even 20 years after, infrastructural development is still lagging behind.

“If we are the model project they should uplift us and say we are the model. They should organise other communities like this, because we are the model. We don’t even come out of the ground yet because we are neglected by the system.

Only when election time come [do] you see people run in and make promises. Me see tractor and something come here the last election, and the day after the election the tractor dem drive out gone because Jamaicans a poppy show. We have to be even buying water,” a fuming Duncans claimed.

Allen also decried the neglected infrastructural works in Retirement Phase One.

“After 20 years people should not have to be traversing those routes — if you can call them that. We were able to get two paved roads through the contribution of Jamaica Social Investment Fund, based upon the Poverty Alleviation Programme that they have. You cannot beg water to boil cow skin. It is embarrassing that after 20 years people do not have roads, light or water,” he argued.

Paul Buchanan, former head of Operation Pride, posited that there will be squatting “in a scenario where the demand for land is not met by the supply in a formal way”.

“Everybody pay for a little spot everywhere because they want shelter, they want a roof over the head of their children,” Buchanan argued.

He noted that at the whiff of any squatting, Government needs to step in and nip it in the bud.

“What is happening at Retirement? Retirement was a place where people were squatting rampantly; we moved in. The social engineering that Holness and other people need to do has not been done. You can’t be Government and people start squatting on land. You must pick up that at every turn,” Buchanan insisted.

“When Pride moved in [on informal settlements], the dons moved out. So how did we move in? We moved in with civil society. That was the social engineering that was done, that was the methodology that we used to deal with squatting. Once you start to ventilate an area that the little don is allocating and giving government land….you need to find out before, but if you find out even during all of that, you move in,” Buchanan advised.

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