Money stalls Marcus house - Government and occupants still to negotiate relocation amount
Tyrone Thompson, Staff Reporter
More than one year ago Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil told Parliament of a plan to restore and maintain the birthplaces of Jamaica's national heroes and prime ministers. Today The Sunday Gleaner continues a series on the state of the birthplaces with a look at St Ann's Bay, the birthplace of National Hero Marcus Garvey.
Four years after ground was broken for the creation of the Marcus Garvey Historical Park at the St Ann's Bay birthplace of the national hero, the transformation is at a standstill as the Government is yet to agree on the terms for the relocation of the occupants.
Coleen Johnson, one of the persons who occupy the structure at 32 Market Street, told The Sunday Gleaner that she has no idea what plans are in place for the property as she is yet to receive any word from the Government regarding her family's relocation.
"I had heard (Minister of Culture) Lisa Hanna talking about relocating the people that are there and stuff but a the same argument we been hearing from day one. After all (Prime Minister) Bruce Golding came here and break grounds and that's it, nothing more happen," charged Johnson.
Hanna recently had to defend herself in Parliament after allegations that under her leadership the cultural ministry had dropped the ball on the project, which had been kicked off by the then prime minister in 2010.
"We did not know whether or not to pay the money to them, and I was not going to take the decision at that time to put people off land if they had documentation," argued Hanna
"There has been a back and forth as to what the persons living on the property have said in terms of their lineage to the property. We were actually giving them time to come up with the documentation, because at no time would I want to compulsorily acquire anything they had said they had legal ownership to," said Hanna then.
The culture minister was responding to questions posed by opposition Member of Parliament Shahine Robinson, in whose North East St Ann constituency the property falls.
But for Johnson the issue of her family's rightful ownership was never an issue.
"This place belonged to my mother and it was passed down from her family, that's how it now come to us. The title is with the National Land Agency, so they can check it if they want," argued Johnson.
"We have been waiting for them to relocate us, and all now we don't hear nothing, people just a go behind our back and a talk, talk, talk, but nobody don't step to me or my family to ask what is going on."
While admitting that the site was still a major draw for locals and tourists alike, Johnson complained that the condition of the house is poor.
"I sent the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) an email to make them know the building is 120 years old and it is dilapidated, and I am ready to do something about it to protect it but its a historical site so I can't touch it. Even the room that I am in I would like to do some work on it but they say I can't touch it."
But chairman of the JNHT, Ainsley Henriques, said the Trust is not going to restore the property while it is in private hands.
"What we are trying to do now is to renew the allocation of money from the Culture Health Arts Sports and Education Fund so that we can complete the acquisition," said Henriques.
While admitting that the process had been ongoing since the 1990s, Henriques agreed that mediating with the occupants of the property was the best option rather than for the Government to unilaterally remove them and take charge of the premises through the process of compulsory acquisition.
"I don't think the Government of Jamaica should have gotten into compulsory acquisition because there can be comfortable mediation processes rather than confrontational mediation processes," Henriques told The Sunday Gleaner. "We have left it in the hands of our lawyers and the lawyers representing the occupants of the premises, who, to be honest, have had a long tenure of occupation. So it's not that we want to throw them out willy nilly, it's not a squatter situation, they have been there a long time."
However, sources close to the negotiation are less than optimistic regarding the eventual acquisition of the property through the mediation process. These sources told The Sunday Gleaner that the relocation demands of the family are high.
"The three sisters who claim ownership to the property are asking for three houses in a gated community valued at more than $15 million each," said the source who asked not to be named.
"That property is not worth $4 million. Even if you add $3 million to the price because its Marcus Garvey birthplace it's still more than $30 million difference, no government would agree to that and any government that does would be out of office the next day. The gap is too big."
However, Henriques is confident that the final negotiated figure for relocating occupants of the property is not going to be astronomical.
"The gap will be bridged, but I can assure you that we are not going to spend almost $50 million on a property that is valued below $4 million."
While not denying that a claim had been made from her family for three houses valued at $15 million each, Johnson felt such a claim was not extravagant.
"They want to pay for the property at its current value and that not going to work. This is a authentic heritage site, see the sign them put up at the front there, me and my sisters deserve about $85 million for it."
Johnson pointed to the recent acquisition of the Outameni property in Trelawny by the National Housing Trust as evidence of the value of cultural and heritage sites, but stated that she would be open to negotiation on the cost of her relocation.
"You no see how much them pay for Outameni the other day, and nothing don't special 'bout that;" scoffed Johnson.
"We are selling them the great Marcus Garvey house, everybody know Marcus Garvey. But we not hard because we want the place to develop, so if they provide three houses in the Runaway Bay area and at least $3 million each to relocate, we will consider it."