Illegal sale of State land going dirt cheap
Hundreds of acres of state-owned land are being sold illegally under a "political land for the poor" scheme in Dallas Mountain, East Rural St Andrew, and is now the subject of a major fraud investigation by an elite anti-corruption police unit.
"There is a unit within C-TOC (Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation) Unit, which is under my leadership, that is enquiring into some occurrence there, but that is all I can say at this time," Assistant Commissioner of Police Devon Watkins told The Gleaner yesterday.
The lots are reportedly being sold for as low as $3,000 and as high as $25,000 to persons from all social classes, including teachers, police officers and soldiers, in a project being led by the Bedward Gardens Providence Society.
Hugh Gordon, president of the society, said approximately 500 lots have been distributed and that the intention was to put "poor people" on lands and have them regularised later.
He said a similar initiative was in Bedward Gardens, where about 200 lots were cut up and distributed to people. The occupants are now getting titles for the property.
"Poor people need land, and anywhere you can let a man get a square fi put him and him family head fi di future, that man will be thankful. We affi try grant the access to the people through dat," Gordon said.
But Dr Morais Guy, minister without portfolio in the housing ministry, said the State has sanctioned no land-distribution programme in the area.
"It was brought to my attention recently by the members of parliament for both Eastern and East Rural St Andrew that lands were being sold there by an individual in the community. I did my checks with the HAJ [Housing Agency of Jamaica], which indicated it wasn't part of the Bedward Gardens Operation PRIDE lands, but it is part of the Dallas Mountain land, which is owned by the Ministry of Housing," Guy told The Gleaner.
The minister said the police have been called in to investigate the matter, which is the second investigation opened in recent weeks pertaining to the illegal sale of State lands.
The other case involves the sale of lands at Mount Edgecome, North West St Andrew, where lands are reportedly being subdivided and sold.
"It was supposed to be part of the Jamaica Economical Housing Development programme ... . My squatter management unit found recently that the lands were being cut up, roads were being scribed, and people were being sold lots," Guy said.
LAND FOR LANDLESS
Yesterday, Gordon told The Gleaner that he was the man leading the efforts on behalf of the community to secure lands for the landless.
"The Bedward Gardens Providence Society, a wi did a deal with it, through the Ministry of Housing, but we get to find out seh we are ahead of the minister, so we affi stop," Gordon told The Gleaner.
"The councillor was supposed to write the minister and let him know we need those lands turned over to the HAJ so that we can get them for housing. He is just in the process of doing that, so the ministry called us and said we should stop until the right process go through. There are no more [lands] until we go through the right process," he added.
However, Artnell McDonald, a member of the governing People's National Party and councillor for the Kintyre division, where the development is taking place, said that he felt it was improper for him to write to the housing minister.
"I am only a councillor, and that should [done by] be the member of parliament, and I know that Mr [Damion] Crawford not writing a thing for anybody," McDonald said.
NEW ROAD WAY
The Dallas Mountain, which appeared to be previously undisturbed, exhibits many signs of human and mechanical invasion. Trees have been ripped violently from the soil by bulldozers, stones unturned, and earth cast aside for a new roadway.
In addition, several 'lots' were seen marked out indicating their owners. In many instances, names are written on boards and placed on the newly subdivided lots. Markings have also been put on stones indicating ownership.
"It is like a carnival on Sundays," one man told The Gleaner while noting that the land distribution in the area has created a beehive of activities in the hills, which overlook the August Town community and the University of the West Indies, Mona.
In addition to a freshly cut dirt road, which leads deep into the hills that loop around the Hope River, several persons were seen cleaning up lots, while others were gathering wood for charcoal purposes. The road, which leads to nowhere, was being traversed by pedestrians and vehicles alike. Even a telecommunications company-owned service vehicle was seen high in the hills.
The entrance to the development has been outfitted with a concrete drain leading from the hills.
Gordon, president of the Bedward Gardens Providence Society, said the project began out of a need to provide housing lots to some individuals and was facilitated through the gift of kind persons who contributed money.
'POLITICAL LAND FOR POOR'
"We were doing it free in terms of political land for the poor, and we got help from people who see the sense of what we a do, in terms of the tractor [to cut the road] and the chopping out," Gordon said.
He said the cost of executing the projects has thus far exceeded $1 million.
Gordon said that in selecting the people for the lands, he made sure that the people do not get the lands simply based on political affiliation.
"I chose and I chose carefully. Me is a politician and me nuh only put politicians there ... . It is a people's initiative, nuh matter who you are," he added.
"Police deh deh, too; soldier deh deh, too. We a try mix up a community weh we feel can live because we nuh want nuh badness up deh," he said.
"We were told that the councillor didn't move fast enough to have the meetings," Gordon said.
He said, too, that East Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Damion Crawford has not been engaged in the process.
"It became a political issue with Crawford, and we were told that the minister did not get anything in writing from the councillor. But we never did a work with the MP because we say him gone, so we done put him one side. Him neva did good enough to do nuttin at all, so we just keep him out of it," Gordon said.
Councillor McDonald said he was the one who stopped the activities two weeks ago.
"It is basically people capturing the lands and some smart alec is manipulating and organising the capturing," McDonald told The Gleaner.
"I went up there and stopped the operations two weeks ago. There was a 950 Cat (tractor) up there, and I asked them to remove it for me. I also instructed them to close back the roadway," McDonald said.
"There was a report that the guys were up there selling lands, and somebody in the hierarchy asked me if I had instructed them to sell any lands and I said no. So they said I should try and get the operation stopped so that somebody can figure out what is going on there," the councillor said.
Crawford told The Gleaner yesterday that the developments were cause for major concern. Describing the operatives in the scheme as "rogue elements", the MP said his only involvement with land in the area was facilitating persons to get titles under the Operation PRIDE programme.
"In relation to this, I am not aware of who have sanctioned it and why it has been sanctioned," said Crawford. "I don't understand who gave permission for funds to be collected and for infrastructure work to be done," the MP said.