Wed | Sep 26, 2018

500 PNP votes saved - Eastern St Andrew Comrades praise UWI for allowing Mona Commons squatters to remain

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
These board shops at the front of the Mona Commons squatter community in St Andrew are slated to be replaced when the redevelopment of the area is complete..

The People's National Party's (PNP) Andre Hylton, the former member of parliament for St Andrew Eastern, and councillor for the Papine division, Venesha Phillips, have applauded the University of the West Indies (UWI) for its decision to allow squatters to remain on land in Mona Commons, St Andrew.

Responding to a recent Sunday Gleaner article, Hylton admitted that he has always been a firm supporter of the squatters remaining despite reports that their presence has posed a threat to the teaching status of the University Hospital of the West Indies.

According to Hylton, while the university has done tremendous work in the process, he was at the forefront of the decision.

"I was the one who, from my time as caretaker, met with the stakeholders and presented a plan which showed that the area could be developed without the removal of the people, some of whom have been living there for 50 years," said Hylton.


Traditional supporters


The former MP said as caretaker, during one of the first meetings he had with the university, he was questioned about his intentions for Mona Commons where the residents are said to be traditional supporters of the PNP.

"I had various meetings with the middle class and I told them categorically that we are not moving the people because there is sufficient lands to build proper shops, build a brand new basic school and community centre and make the thing presentable so that people can live comfortably.

"I told them that there was nowhere to relocate them," said Hylton.

"I have talked about the issue in every presentation I made in Parliament. I spoke about the University Town programme, which is basically spearheaded by UWI through its township initiative," added Hylton, as he said he took his petition for the residents to stay to then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

He admitted that politics played a part in his desire for the Mona Commons squatters to be regularised and be allowed to stay.

Hylton noted that current MP, the Jamaica Labour Party's Fayval Williams, won by 157 votes in the 2016 general election compared to his 253 winning margin in 2011.

According to Hylton, if 500 PNP votes are removed from the community it would be giving up the seat to the JLP.

"I can understand those who say it seems like the squatters have won. The issue of land ownership across the island is one that has to be taken seriously, because you can't have these informal settlements just keep cropping up across the island.

"It does not speak to good development. I take that point. And the residents did wrong in capturing the lands," conceded Hylton, as he praised the UWI for spearheading the transformation process.


Illegal landlord


In the meantime, Phillips suggested that the UWI may have been acting as landlord illegally, as it only secured a lease for the area in 2014.

According to Phillips, as far as she was aware, the residents had adversely possessed the land, some for as long as 80 years.

"I am happy with the way things have turned out, even though I am not a supporter of squatting anywhere in the island. But to the best of my knowledge, the university was acting as landlord without any legal right to do so, because it only 'secured' a lease on the property in September 2014," Phillips told The Sunday Gleaner.

She argued that precedent was already set in the Flankers case, and UWI would have no rights.

"Given the Flankers case, the Government would have to pay the residents or take back the lands, using the Compulsory Land Acquisition Act. I don't see any government doing that.

"There are 963 persons and counting, and we have not counted babies, and the numbers fluctuate. But when I came into the political process I told them to hear UWI. But the truth is, UWI was not the owner of the lands," added Phillips.

She said Mona Commons must be the last of such communities where squatting is allowed to germinate and expand, and any party which forms the government must move to cauterise such situations early.

Efforts to get a comment from Williams were unsuccessful.