Target: Land scammers

Adamant that the Government did not evict anyone from the structures it tore down at Greater Bernard Lodge in St Catherine, last Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew firmly stated that his Administration will be going after criminals running land scams across the island, including under the cover of political ties.

Addressing the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Holness outlined the sequence of events leading to the demolition of 10 unfinished structures adjacent to the Clifton settlement in the Greater Bernard Lodge development area, where the notorious Klansman gang is said to have been establishing control in a land sale racket.

People were building structures in the area which the Government had reserved next to Clifton to facilitate the laying down of supporting infrastructure and any necessary relocation of homeowners in that community, which has been under regularisation since 2002, the prime minister explained. He said the illegal structures extended into farmlands beside the reserve plots of land.

He told the House that, had the situation been allowed to continue, it could have led to a massive land grab in the area, displaced farmers, and presented a threat to the sovereignty of the State.

“I could never allow that,” Holness declared. “Look here, I’ve been prime minister three times already, I don’t want to leave a legacy where this country descends into disorder and lawlessness,” he said, referring to scrutiny about the demolition resulting in a possible political sacrifice on his part.

Holness argued that no houses were removed from the lands nor was anyone evicted.

“We were very careful and we made sure that we were well within what was legally required; we didn’t throw out anybody’s furniture,” he stated, stressing that notices had been given and displayed, and meetings were held in March by Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings, which called in residents of the community, including an individual whose name appeared on several receipts for lands he allegedly sold to people illegally.

“It was made clear to the members of the community that no authority was given to be carrying out any construction on the land, that such action was illegal, and any construction should be immediately discontinued,” he said.

The prime minister indicated that SCJ Holdings is willing to offer support to people who had been building on the reserve lands, but stressed that this would only be offered if these individuals approach the Government “with clean hands”, by providing information as to how they came into possession of the lands on which they were building.

“There is a process that will be applied to them. Firstly they must come and identify themselves to us. Come to the SCJ, come with clean hands, you have to tell us how this happened. In the process of regularising this situation, if that is going to happen, we have to understand how it happened. Come to us and reason with us and we will try and work out a solution, bring your papers and come to us,” he stated, adding that he could not disclose the nature of the support that will be offered.

Furthermore, he gave notice that there is no guarantee that the one structure left behind on the lands will remain standing, and called on the person who built it to come forward to the authorities.

“The structure may not stand, but let’s hear what they have to say; come to us, let us understand how you got there,” the prime minister said.

He stressed that the security forces had not been involved in the demolition activity, but were there to provide security to the SCJ employees who were fearful due to the link between the situation with the lands and the Klansman gang.

“On the matter of criminals driving fear into our State, every single Jamaican must stand up against that. There was an incident where a public official was murdered by members of that gang, so this isn’t a fear that was unfounded,” he told the House.

Holness cautioned that the people of Clifton shouldn’t be stigmatised as they are not squatters, and will be issued with titles later this year. He said most of those who have taken up illegal possession of lands adjacent to Clifton are not from within the community, nor do they have any connections with it.

The prime minister told the House that the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency have been directed to launch an intensive investigation into reports of land scams right across the island.

“We must clearly establish that no criminal organisation, no scammer, no don, no politician can tell anyone to go and occupy land that they do not legally own, whether it is private land or Government land,” he insisted.

He also signalled that the Government will look to amend legislation to extend the time for adverse possession of State-owned lands, which are not Crown lands, to 60 years. Not all State-owned lands are Crown lands, and under current laws, Crown lands are protected by this 60-year limit from adverse possession, while State-owned lands are protected by a 12-year minimum, so too are private lands.

“Given the imperatives that we face, we need to increase the protection,” Holness said.

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