What is to become of us?
UDC chairman KD Knight has no answer for suffering fishermen
Scores of fisherfolks are bittterly complaining of being hard done by, as the state-run Urban Development Corporation (UDC) moves to clear a strip of fishing beach slated for development as a marina and entertainment complex, on the old Forum Hotel property in Portmore, St Catherine.
The fishermen claimed to have been left off a list of persons who are to be relocated to a nearby plot of land on the nearby Port Henderson Road. They also charged that in their place, several persons who were neither fishermen nor occupants or owners of shops in the shanty town have been placed on the list and have received a sum of $45,000 for moving assistance from the Government.
"The wrong people get the money," said one longtime fisherman who asked the Jamaica Observer not to identify him by name. "Some people who collect money I have never seen them before and the people who have contributed to the fishing industry over the years don't get anything," he insisted.
According to some of the complainants, those who collected the money they had no business collecting in the first place, have been going around boasting about their gain.
Some of the slighted fisherfolks with whom the Observer spoke Friday, said they were especially disappointed with the way the programme had been administered, despite a promise that fishermen would have received preferential treatment.
The Observer was unable to ascertain how many persons had been affected by the reported anomaly, the cause and what corrective measure, if any, would be taken as UDC Chairman KD Knight flatly refused to talk to the Observer. Knight, who is also a Queen's Counsel, said he would not be giving the newspaper any news. "Not a word," is all he would say.
The attorney recently criticised the newspaper for its coverage of the Appliance Traders Limited pension fraud trial in which he represented one of the defendants.
When the Observer visited the shack-cluttered fishing beach last Friday, disgruntled fisherfolks shared their concerns without reservation, and were highly suspicious about how the money had been distributed.
They explained that after the UDC announced in January that an agreement had been reached for the Portmore Marina Development Limited to purchase the Forum Hotel for $350 million, UDC representatives visited the community to meet with them. Notice was subsequently given for them to vacate the strip area by July 28, 2014 with a grace period of August 15. According to them, the UDC representatives told them that they would be given $45,000 to purchase material to build on the foundation that is now being prepared at Port Henderson Road, commonly called 'Back Road', and that the current fishermen would be given priority for a spot.
As a result of the reported problem, some of the fisherfolks said, they are faced with a double problem. With their names not on the list, those who own boats will not only be out of a home but they will have no place to keep their vessels.
Longtime resident and fisherman Rupert Carteran who owns two boats, is among those who fall in this category. Having given his name to UDC reps on three separate occasions and completed the relevant paperwork, he said he went to the Greater Portmore Police Station, commonly called the 'Hundred Man Police Station', just to make certain that he was on the list. He wasn't.
"Where will I put my boats? I'm still paying for them," he said in frustration.
Others like Robert Lowe, who has been fishing for 35 years, has made the journey to the UDC's downtown Kingston offices in search of answers.
"I walked it to UDC on Thursday because I didn't have the bus fare," he said, noting that he didn't get to speak to anyone who could assist. "If they can't give me a base (on the new property) then give me a squatter's grant so I can leave the place," Lowe said.
At the same time, some - among them Ryan Honiegan - took issue with the $45,000 handout, saying that the sum was insufficient to purchase material to build on the foundation being prepared. A sufficient sum, they said, would be $100,000 as they are not allowed to use the old material from their current shacks for construction at the new site. But the complaints do not end here.
Fisherman Franklyn Royce, and others claim that at the new location, people who do not now live together will have to share a foundation, which they said could accommodate a 12-foot long by 12-foot wide structure. They explained that the future shacking up is due to the fact that when the structures at the fishing beach were being assessed, shacks that are joined together (be it a dwelling and a shop or two dwellings) were listed as a single structure.
"They need to reshuffle and come better," said affected fisherman Kevin Bennett in reference to the UDC. "A pear idiot thing a gwaan," said a woman who gave her name only as Debbie. "The money already gone. We want to know what ago happen wid we and wi youth dem and it's back to school."