PNP steps up call for Bernard Lodge audit

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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THE Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is stepping up its call for a broad scale audit of the sale of lands in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, despite last week's announcement from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that he has ordered a comprehensive review of the project.

This time it is the Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Fitz Jackson, who is leading the Opposition's call for the audit.

In a release, Jackson, whose constituency includes Bernard Lodge, argued that what appears to be the secret sale of the sugar lands in the area must be exposed and any hint of corruption or misappropriation brought to book.

“Well-thinking Jamaicans should not sit by and allow the nation's land assets to be divested in ways that are not transparent and appear to be sweet deals for friends and associates, while the hard-working small farmers are evicted with no recourse.

“We need to know who are the purchasers of these lots and how much did they pay for them. It cannot be enough that the lands are too expensive for the small farmers,” said Jackson.

He argued that the preservation of the thriving agricultural sector in Bernard Lodge is critical not only for the small farmers and their families but also for the good of the wider community.

“The fire sale of Bernard Lodge sugar lands to connected interests and the rushed effort by the Government to displace the farmers by brute force, without consultation and consideration, further signal the general lack of care for those who are most vulnerable in the society,” charged Jackson.

The Opposition MP added: “How can the Government justify uprooting existing farmers with substantial production and supply into the export and agro-processing trade, to facilitate new farming interests while hundreds of unused lands are elsewhere in the Bernard Lodge area?”

He charged that an export farmer of horticultural products died upon hearing that his farm would be uprooted.

“How many more will have to die before this travesty is halted? If it is that all or most of the farmers will be facilitated in other areas, why not place those 'big picture investors', as Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw terms them, in those same areas?” questioned Jackson.

“As was the case in slavery and colonial days, ordinary and aspiring Jamaicans are being relegated to the fringes, while the 'well connected' are given the prime or choice areas. This is very similar to the apartheid farming system once practised in South Africa and Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. This must be resisted relentlessly by all well-thinking people.

“There are thousands of acres of land in the Bernard Lodge area available for development, I strongly suggest that the farmers are left alone and the Government utilise the portion of land they are suggesting that the farmers should use for the new project. These lands are wide open and can be utilised without uprooting the farmers and destroying their crops,” added Jackson.

Last week Holness declared that he was receptive to the debate about finding the right balance in facilitating housing development and agriculture, while addressing environmental concerns as he commented on the planned Bernard Lodge project.

“It is something that I am very sensitive to, and it is never easy, but the nation must never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and the ultimate goal is to provide shelter in an orderly way and in a sustainable way. So, I'll say more on the Bernard Lodge issue, [but] I requested a full brief,” said Holness.

But Minister with responsibility for agriculture Audley Shaw used his presentation in the Sectoral Debate last week to defend the project which he said is slated to bring investments valued at approximately $58 billion.

With some farmers complaining about the manner in which they are being evicted and the proposed area for their relocation, Shaw argued that the development will mean better days for them.

He added that the Government has committed to providing adequately irrigated lands to farmers displaced by the planned development

“As we build a new Jamaica, we recognise that housing and commercial activity must be a part of our land utilisation strategy. We recognise too that this necessitates the relocation of some of our lessee farmers to other fertile and arable lands, good for agriculture production. We respect our farmers. We are not leaving them out, but including them,” said Shaw.

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