‘Where are the other houses?’
MEMBER of Parliament for St Catherine Southern, Fitz Jackson is questioning why only one person from the group of individuals in Clifton, St Catherine, whose homes were demolished in October 2022, received a home on Tuesday at the New Social Housing Programme handover ceremony in the community.
“Justice must not be selective, it must be equitable, and those who were injured should be treated justly. I am not aware of any such just treatment of all the persons who have been affected. Yes, a number of persons have acquired lots over here improperly, and where a wrong was done it is the responsibility of the State to seek to correct those wrongs.
“I do not condone any illegality or any improper conduct but if you have a pool of persons who have been wronged, who have been sold lands improperly and you want to remedy it, then treat it as a group,” Jackson said while referring to the residents who had their illegally constructed homes destroyed last year October.
When asked about the absence of Clifton residents from the opening ceremony Jackson stressed that the residents have nothing to celebrate, noting that it is not fair to them to have their homes destroyed and then see only one resident be the recipient of a new home during the ceremony.
“Knowing the community, as I have, they don’t have anything to celebrate. Their community for which formal ownership is to be completed is yet to be completed, and I will [therefore] ask the question of why should they be here? They are not beneficiaries of what is happening this morning and I sense that would have informed their thinking and, by extension, their response. I think it’s a travesty,” he said.
He added, “The persons who purchased lands here, from all that I have gathered here so far, have been victims — and it’s like the victims are being furthered punished.”
In the meantime Jackson, whilst congratulating Shaneil Francis on her new home, also stressed the importance of others to benefit in the same way, questioning Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings Limited for their delay in issuing titles for all residents.
“I am aware that they are going through the process and, as I mentioned, it’s over 450 landowners all together; I think they are targeting 200 in the first instance. I have voiced my concern about 200 being done, and not all together. The community has made it clear over the years: All for one and one for all. They have struggled to build their community together and they want to benefit together,” Jackson expressed.
However, Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation Andrew Holness, whilst giving the main address at the handover ceremony, was disgruntled with some of Jackson’s comments and used the opportunity to reiterate the importance of legally acquiring homes.
“I beg you: ‘Don’t play politics with housing and don’t play politics with people’s lives. If we are to improve Jamaica it must be done with order,’ ” he said angrily.
“I want to say to every Jamaican out there who is looking for somewhere to live, the illegal and irregular settlement of land cannot be countenanced; we can’t support it! This is why we are creating all of these formal avenues to allow you the opportunity to legally own your property.”
In response to Jackson’s concerns about other residents not receiving homes Holness stressed that Francis, the recipient, went through the correct avenues and contacted the SCJ for assistance to legally acquire a new home.
“As I stand here today, we have stood up for order and at the same time stood up for fairness because Shaneil is there as the perfect example of equity in the pursuit of order. She will have a house that is properly built on a land that she will have her title for — and that opportunity was given to all owners of the nine or 10 houses that we had to take down.”
Holness clarified that residents whose homes were demolished were provided with an opportunity to detail their property acquisition to the Government and SCJ. He said the SCJ, with understanding, will identify affordable lands and offer assistance. So far, only four individuals have taken advantage of this opportunity.
He announced that he will be seeking to distribute approximately 300 titles to other residents of Clifton by February, ensuring that others who have gone about things legally will benefit from new homes.