BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
RETIREMENT, St James — FIFTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Ingrid Kerr could not hide her joy when she received her certificate of title from minister without Portfolio with responsibility for Housing Dr Morais Guy.
Amidst the loud cheers of approval from the gathering in the tent pitched on the grounds of the Granville All-Age School last Friday, the bubbly Kerr, sporting a broad smile, acknowledged the cheers before walking briskly back to her seat.
She was among the 61 persons from Retirement 1, Pitfour 3 and Meadowsvale in St James who received official documents for their lots from the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), under the Government's Operation PRIDE.
The communities have been lobbying the Government for ownership of Operation PRIDE lands for almost two decades.
And last Friday's title handing-over ceremony marked the culmination of the long process.
For Kerr, it is a dream come true.
She was among the first group of persons who began to squat on state-owned lands 23 years ago, on what was then the 1,800-acre Retirement property, which was later sub-divided to form Retirement 1, Medowsvale, Pitfour 3 and other communities.
"I am feeling overjoyed, I am overwhelmed to know that I am in the first batch getting titles. Despite the number of challenges, here we are now receiving out titles. It's really a dream come true," said Kerr, who has been the secretary for the Retirement Development Trust since 1994.
She recalled the many challenges that she encountered during her pursuit of maintaining development controls on the state-owned property.
"We have had several fights over the lands at Retirement and they have even "thumped out my teeth" over the land," Kerr told the Observer West, pointing to a gap in a section of her mouth.
"If I am the secretary and I am living there and if I see where somebody is encroaching on somebody's lot, I am going there to say that you are encroaching, so that makes me one of the persons who are not well liked and so I came under a lot of pressure and attacks for persons," she explained.
She said apart from the many fights with persons who did not want to play by the rules pertaining to the acquisition of the Retirement land, successive Governments were also a stumbling block.
According to Kerr, representatives of Operation PRIDE, for example, were tardy on numerous occasions to address breaches that were reported on the property.
"When we gave Operation PRIDE information about the problems we were having on the land, they did not come to do anything. They waited until the land build out on, and then when persons are to get their land, they can't, because they say there are issues on the land. And it is them (Operation PRIDE) who caused the problem because they got the information and they did not come there and rectify it," she explained.
She told the Observer West that in 1993, as the numbers of squatters on the property increased, steps were taken to acquire the property from Government.
As such, she said, the Retirement Trust Provident Society was formed and persons living on the land were encouraged to make contributions.
According to Kerr, three years later some $1.6 million was collected towards the purchase of the property.
The trust then approached former Prime Minister PJ Patterson with a view of formalising their tenure on the property.
The then prime minister, she added, gave the initiative his blessing.
Kerr told the Observer West that despite having waited for so long to get their titles, the beneficiaries are happy.
"They feel real good; it was a great struggle. For us, it's a mission accomplished," she stressed.
Retirement 1 with its 510 lots, like Pitfour and Meadowsvale, are located approximately 10 kilometres south east of the resort city of Montego Bay.
And while some infrastructure work has been done, the communities lack completed roadways, drainage systems and water distribution networks.
Meanwhile, Dr Guy has urged the beneficiaries to exercise diligence in the management and utilisation of the titles, and ensure that they redound to their families' benefit.
"You have given us a responsibility, as Government, and I am giving you a responsibility with the issuance of this title; and to say to you, utilise it in the best interest of yourself and your family," he emphasised.