BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment email@example.com
A pre-election promise made by former Mayor of Portmore Keith Hinds that land will be given for the building of a training and resource centre for disabled persons is yet to be honoured by the current administration, which believes he had no authority to pledge what they claim is property not even owned by the municipality.
In the meantime, the controversy over the land has widened as both the Portmore Self-Help Disability Organisation (PSDO) and the Gregory Park Citizens' Association are now claiming that Hinds promised them the same parcel of land for their respective use.
In a letter to the PSDO, dated December 1, 2012, a copy of which was obtained by the Jamaica Observer, Hinds wrote: "This serves to honour my commitment of giving the Portmore Self-Help Disability Organisation 50 per cent of the land given to me by [the] Ministry of Water and Housing for the construction of a resource centre. This 50 per cent of this parcel of land, given, is to be managed by Portmore Self-Help Disability Organisation."
Hinds gave the commitment letter to the disabilities organisation the same day he publicly announced that he was giving the land to the organisation.
When contacted, the former mayor admitted giving the PSDO 50 per cent of the land as another group other than the citizens' association wanted the remainder of the property to establish a golden age home.
Yesterday, Hinds told the Observer that, while he gave the land to the PSDO, he had asked the citizens' association "to administer the construction of the building, and this is how the promise was made to both sets of organisations".
He explained that he had gone to then minister Horace Chang to explain the plight of members of the disabled community and the property was identified as the most suitable.
"The council needs to do what they need to do, because the need is even greater today for the disabled community and no political interference should have come between that," he said.
Founder of the PSDO, Bridgette Johnson, said its members are prepared to fight for what was given to them, having lobbied for more than 10 years to get a place of their own.
"We decide to go in the wheelchair and on di stick dem, or even sit down on the ground, because it not right; it is over 10 years we lobbying for that because there is nothing for the disabled people to do here in Portmore, and disabled children are just sitting down in dem house and we are trying to put something in place and we are being prevented," she said.
Johnson told the Observer that the organisation first approached the mayor for the land after members were held up and robbed at a premises they rented.
However, after months of planning for the resource centre, Johnson said she was surprised to have been informed by some councillors that "him (Hinds) caan gi yu land like dat". She said officials of the municipality informed her that it was a political blunder as Hinds did not discuss the plans with the council.
"Now the land is being used to play football and the present councillor is saying the land is not for us," she said.
Councillor Oral Gunning (PNP, Gregory Park Division) said Hinds gave the citizens' association the land to build a community centre for residents, after meeting with them a few days before the local government election.
But an adamant Gunning said the ex-mayor should have never promised the land to the disabilities association without consultation with the residents. He was, however, unable to say whether discussions were had with the former Jamaica Labour Party Councillor Camille Buchanan.
According to Gunning, the community has no centre, and this land is the only available space in the division on which one could be constructed. "Consultation would need to be had with the residents, and so I can't say that I would have no objections to the PSDO getting the land," he said
He noted that, among the things which have to be taken into consideration is, the fact that the land is not big enough to be given to two different associations and also that it is located next to the residential community of Hamilton Gardens.
"It is going to come down to what the residents want, because you have to be careful how you erect certain types of structure in such a community," he said.
Gunning's solution to the problem, however, is for the building of a community centre where the PSDO would be given office space. If this cannot work, Gunning said other locations should be looked at, as Gregory Park is not the only community with available lands.
When contacted, Mayor George Lee said the municipality does not own the land and was still lobbying to have it transferred. "The council has no objection to them (PSDO) getting the land, but we do not own the land," he said.
However, Hinds said yesterday that the council is in possession of titles for the property and other lands, adding that the documents were in the safe at the municipality. "The Portmore Municipality is now land rich because of my intervention," Hinds said.