Mon | Aug 21, 2017

They stay - Gov't to allow former sugar workers to remain in unfinished houses, avoids clash

Published:Friday | October 7, 2016 | 10:32 AMJovan Johnson
New housing units at Stokes Hall, near Golden Grove in St Thomas, for former sugar workers.
The dilapidated barracks in Golden Grove, St Thomas, where the former sugar workers were living up to last week.
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According to highly placed sources, the Government is to allow former sugar workers to remain in the new housing units at Stokes Hall near Golden Grove, St Thomas, quickly putting an end to a potential clash between authorities and the residents, who had been insisting that they would not vacate the unfinished houses.

The Government had all 120 residents of the dilapidated barracks in Golden Grove sign contracts to temporarily relocate to the housing units last Friday to reduce risks associated with Hurricane Matthew, which, at the time, threatened the island.

However, even before moving in, the residents were adamant that they had no intention of leaving, even though the houses do not have electricity, water, or a functioning sewerage system.

Their insistence forced Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda to call an emergency meeting yesterday with members of the engineering and construction teams, as well as representatives of the parish council and the health ministry.

The official release from the ministry said that after a tour today, “a decision would be taken regarding the way forward”; however, The Gleaner has learnt that the Government has decided that the residents will remain, and the tour will be used to determine how soon a sewerage system can be put in place.

Engineers reportedly said they could fix a septic system in three weeks.

Utility agencies such as the Jamaica Public Service and National Water Commission are also expected to be called in to provide registration and other support.

“There is going to be a fix and the issue will be solved,” an official close to the talks told The Gleaner on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the matter.

COSTLY RELOCATION

On Sunday, Millicent Brown*, one of the occupiers, lamented that she had spent a lot of money to move her belongings to the new unit and that she did not have the funds to move back to the old sugar barracks.

“A whole heap a money wi spend fi move come over yah. A Friday night dem gi wi di key seh wi fi move just fi hurricane, but some people a seh dem nah move back,” she said.

Most of the residents would have eventually got keys to the houses after completion, but acting permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry Reginald Budhan said there was no timeline for the official handover. He also said the unfinished houses were being vandalised.

The houses at Stokes Hall are 145 of the 397 built in sugar-dependent communities islandwide under the Government’s Sugar Transformation Programme, which is funded by the European Union.

A total of 302 persons will benefit from the Stokes Hall houses, which should have been delivered nine months after the $158 million contracts were signed in January 2013 with construction firm Alcar Construction and Haulage Company Limited.

The houses are being provided free of cost to the residents, who will only pay to process the property titles by the Land Administration and Management Programme at a reported fee of between $30,000 and $40,000.

*Name changed on request.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com