Businessman frustrated by decade-long wait for land compensation
More than two years after the official opening of the North-South Highway, and a decade since the Government compulsorily acquired land at Moneague, St Ann as part of the project, businessman Magnus Mullings is still engaged in a struggle to get compensation.
However, the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC) said the matter is now before the court because there is disagreement about the level of compensation being offered.
A copy of a notice under The Land Acquisition Act provided by Mullings' attorney, Leon Palmer, shows that in 2008, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared the approximately 8,437 square metres of land at Phoenix Park as needed for the construction of Highway 2000 Phase 1B.
Golding noted that no agreement by private treaty for the purchase of the property had been arrived at and directed the commissioner of lands to take urgent possession of the land.
Mullings said that among his assets on the property were crops and pigs he was rearing, a number of which died as a result of the activities undertaken in the construction of the road, as well as the removal of a meat processing plant he was establishing.
In addition, he said that a section of the land which was acquired prevented him from entering his house from the front entrance. Mullings is also claiming for structural damage to a pit which he said was damaged from blasting.
Palmer told the Financial Gleaner that he filed a lawsuit in 2014 against NROCC, the commissioner of lands and the attorney general, on behalf of Mullings, and expects the matter to either proceed to mediation or legal case management soon.
However, he noted that "Mr Mullings is frustrated" about the time it is taking to settle the matter.
He said NROCC has paid for some of the crops on the property, but has so far not compensated Mullings for the land acquired.
Mullings said that by about 2012, compensation offered for the damage to his assets and the land was about $15 million. Palmer said they dispute that sum. Instead it is expected to be determined by the court case.
"We didn't sue for a specific sum," the lawyer said, noting that among other things they are claiming for structural damage, crops and livestock lost.
NROCC Managing Director Ivan Anderson told the Financial Gleaner that when the agency took possession of the lands in 2008, it paid Mullings for the crops which were impacted, as well as the costs associated with the relocation of pig pens on the site.
"At the time we took possession, Mr Mullings was not the owner of the property, and could not be paid for the lands. The property was part of an estate where the previous owner had died. This was the reason for the compulsory acquisition," he said.
"Once the probate of the will of the deceased was completed by Mr Mullings he provided us with evidence that he was now authorised to do transactions in relation to the land. At this point in 2010, Mr Mullings was offered payment for the lands based on a valuation carried out by an independent valuator. Mr Mullings rejected the offer and the matter was referred to the court for a decision to be made," Anderson said. "This is where the matter is currently," he added.
Anderson said NROCC resorts to compulsory acquisition typically for one of three reasons: where there is a title but the owner has died and there is no one legally able to act for the owner; there is no title for the property; or there is a title but no agreement as to the amount of the compensation.
He said that of the more than 400 properties acquired on the North-South Highway alignment, "We have less than 10 properties where the owner has disagreed with the compensation offered and the matter has been referred to the courts for settlement."