BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — special assignment email@example.com
MORE than 200 new houses are to be built with European Union (EU) funds for sugar workers living in dilapidated barracks in Golden Grove, St Thomas.
Two contracts valued at $308 million were signed yesterday for the infrastructural work to begin ahead of construction of 225 one-, two- and three-bedroom units for the 486 persons living in the barracks, which were built in the 1920s.
The Barracks Relocation Project, which is being financed under the Sugar Accompanying Measures Programme, will see each recipient getting a house on Excluded Estate lands and a registered title in their name. This will be at no charge, except for a processing fee of between $30,000 and $40,000 for the land titles.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in addressing the large turnout of sugar workers, residents, union officials, and political representatives at the ceremony in Hampton Court, noted that the Government would have been irresponsible were they to ignore the social ills that have persisted for these persons living in the barracks.
The Barracks Relocation Project, she said, was conceived to build decent houses and communities for the current generation of occupants, thereby removing the stigma associated with living in barracks and correct a historic wrong which has persisted for too long.
"This exercise here today gives me hope that, even within the limits of fiscal constraints and amidst the current economic challenges, we can transform lives and provide meaningful service to our people," Simpson Miller said.
The prime minister pointed to that initiative, as well as some of the other projects slated to come on stream in the parish shortly, as evidence of the work her Government has done and continues to do in its first year in office.
"For all those who say the Government is doing nothing and Portia is doing nothing, check this," she said to thunderous applause.
Simpson Miller said she was determined to see persons relocated from the barracks as part of her contribution to national development and a positive transformation of the lives of the people.
Barracks were introduced in the sugar industry to provide temporary housing for migrant workers who came from all over the island to work in cane fields and factories, particularly during crop time. However, what was intended to be temporary housing, with communal facilities, evolved over time into permanent homes where generations of families have been raised.
Head of operations for the Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica Jesus Orus Baguena, in his address, said it was of vital importance that as Jamaica's sugar industry is moved forward, those who toiled to develop the industry are not left behind.
"The [sugar support] programme would have failed its objectives if it would not have catered to the needs of the people affected by the restructuring of the industry and shown gratitude to those whose work has allowed the sugar industry to thrive," Baguena said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister announced that an agro-park will be built on a section of the former banana lands known as Plantain Garden River in eastern St Thomas. This, she said, will be done in the 2013-2014 financial year and some $60 million have already been earmarked from the Sugar Transformation Programme to undertake critical infrastructure work associated with the agro-park.
Additionally, Simpson Miller said 15 kilometres of road will be rehabilitated in the parish as part of the programme at a cost of $100 million, as well as major drains in the cane-growing areas at a cost of more than $80 million.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has made provision to resettle some 876 residents of sugar estate barracks islandwide in some 400 housing solutions at seven relocation sites in four sugar parishes, at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion.
The size of houses allocated will vary based on the size of families to be resettled. The proposed form of tenure is freehold with a restriction on sale or transfer of properties for a minimum of five years.