Timehri North residents refuse to go
…awaiting gov’t resettlement plan
The Timehri North Develop-mental Council (TNDC), a group representing the 2,364 residents who have been asked to remove from their homes near the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), has said that there are no plans to move as it awaits word from government on their resettlement.
At a press conference hosted yesterday by the AFC, members of the group said that even as the CJIA expansion project forges ahead, residents were unaware of a relocation plan for the area until last Sunday night, when it was mentioned by Housing Minister Irfaan Ali during a televised debate on NCN.
Ali had said that the government will be going to the people of the area with a relocation plan and he later told this newspaper that persons will be contacting the residents of the area on arrangements for their relocation.
But according to chairman of the TNDC Daniel Fraser, moves towards regularising the community were initiated as far back as 1997. The group is contending that while the residents do not own titles of house lots for the land they each occupy, they were given assurances by the authorities as recently as 2003 that the area would be regularised. They said that persons received house lot numbers to this effect.
Fraser, who read from a prepared statement, recounted that around 1997 then government Member of Parliament (MP) Philomena Sahoye-Shury, in a discussion with settlers of different parts of Timehri and Hyde Park, embarked on a regularisation process. He said that such discussions over a period of time saw the disbursement of land titles to the residents who were removed from another section of Timehri to the Base Road, Ice House Road and finally GAC Old Road, now called Kali Road.
The process also began in Timehri North, Fraser said, while adding that an occupational survey was conducted and residents were told to pool their resources to facilitate the upgrade of utilities and other essential services.
He said that an international community development agency was called in to assist and he noted that the community was encouraged to contribute financially towards the area’s development.
The Housing Ministry this week stated that there are 299 houses in the area. However, the TNDC said that there are 336 buildings in the area, in which 394 families live. This figure, they reported, accounts for 2,364 persons who live there, with 697 men, 789 women and 878 children.
AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes stated at yesterday’s press briefing that it was clear that the government was in the process of regularising the area. Hughes, who is representing the interests of the residents, said that house lot numbers were assigned to the area and he noted that the citizens of the community had expectations that their lands would have been regularised. He said too that the utility services, including the water and electricity companies, recognise the area as a community.
Hughes said that before anyone could respond to the call for their relocation from the area, they first have to know about the resettlement plan. “Nobody has first of all said to them that they are going to be resettled,” he noted.
Asked whether any legal action will be taken against the government, Hughes said that the government will be afforded “every possible opportunity to do the right thing, and if they turn up and just bulldoze the place then we will see what will happen.” He added, “We will see if the judiciary is willing to protect the rights of poor, powerless, innocent people and on the basis of civil action, there clearly will be civil action in the form of protest action.”
According to the residents, large acres of crops that belong to farmers who have been farming in the area for years have been destroyed by the Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC)—which is undertaking the airport expansion—and many persons have suffered financial losses as a result.
The residents also said yesterday that the government was contradicting itself, since Minister Ali stated during the debate last weekend that four applications for hotels were being considered for within the environs of the airport.
As a result, Hughes said Ali was saying “that it’s all right to remove poor people and displace them from their homes to allow a richer, better, heeled class of persons to come and establish not homes but commercial entities without any regard for those people who lived there.”
Fraser also said that the residents were concerned upon hearing the Private Sector Commission (PSC) position on the expansion. He said that from the comments of PSC Chairman Ronald Webster, it could be concluded that Splashmin’s Fun Park and Housing Development, Bounty Farms, Madewini Gardens, Jubilee Resort and many businesses that derive their income from the Yarrowkabra Creek, Madewini River, Dakara Creek and Red Water Creek and are likely to be affected by the expansion, are either non-supporters of the PSC or it does not care for their investments.
The airport expansion project includes an extension of the primary runway named RWY 06/24 to a total of 10,800 feet to accommodate large transatlantic aircraft, along with construction of a new terminal building, acquisition of eight boarding bridges, and installation of other state-of-the-art equipment.
The project attracted criticism from the onset, since while it was signed in Georgetown, it was first announced in the Jamaican press by CHEC.
A recent disclosure by the government that it is relying on a 12-year-old Environ-ment Impact Assessment for the expansion project has also raised concerns.