Errant builders refuse to pay parish council fees
The issue of wayward persons constructing buildings without obtaining the requisite approvals is still a major problem for western Jamaica's parishes, according to chairmen of three local authorities.
Mayor of Savanna-la-Mar and chairman of the Westmoreland Parish Council, Bertel Moore, said the issue still prevails in his parish, but that the council's municipal police and building officers were working to curtail the problem.
"It was just yesterday, on my way home, I said 'let me take a drive and visit this particular area'. When I went there, I saw that a building was going up. I asked them for their building plan and they didn't have any. Immediately, I called the building officer. He came in and served them a stop order. They will have to bring that plan in, and there will also be a penalty when that plan comes in, for them to get it approved," Moore told Western Focus on Wednesday.
"Some of them know that they are supposed to submit building plans but they try to escape it. Even the one I went to yesterday, the contractor is no fool to the situation, but he was behaving as if he doesn't know... . What they think is that when they are in certain (remote) locations, they can get away with it. We work together with tax office and if you bring your plan in and your taxes are not up to date, and you don't have your certificate of compliance to state that your property taxes are paid in full, we will not approve your plan," Moore added.
Data from the Ministry of Local Government show that in the last financial year, the Westmoreland Parish Council earned $55,066,009.59 in revenue, while in the 2011/2012 financial year it earned $44,042,005.63. Most of the revenue was generated from its transportation centre.
At the neighbouring St. James Parish Council, building and subdivision fees were reported to be the highest contributor to its revenues. At the end of the last financial year, the council's revenue totalled $132,788,591.23, which was approximately $15 million less than the $147,879,080.00 collected in 2012/2013.
Chairman of the St. James Parish Council and mayor of Montego Bay, Glendon Harris, told Western Focus that unapproved buildings not only severely impacted revenue generation, but also posed security and safety concerns.
"What happens is that when you don't have a building plan, things are done in a way that they breach the restrictive covenants; they build on lands that don't belong to them and those things. In the case of an earthquake - those buildings - we have no guarantee that they won't be causative agents of further disaster," Harris said.
"In light of that, the council granted a three-month amnesty last year for persons to come in with their plans ... and we would go through and legalise those that could be legalised. But there were very few takers within the window that we granted. Many of them don't want to conform to any law and order; we now will have to strategise to come up stiffer penalties for persons who build without the requisite approvals," he added.
Harris said in many instances, the perpetrators were more than able to pay the requisite building fees as some of the structures they were constructing cost tens of millions of dollars. He also said some persons were squatting and so were not paying property taxes.
"It is not only poor people doing it. Some of the houses cost 20-odd and 30-odd million dollars to construct them. When you can build a $20 million house on a property that does not belong to you, you are either saying 'cho, if it lick dung it lick dung' or to say they have the God-given right to take what they want. If you can afford to build a $20 million house, you can buy a piece of land for one or two million dollars," he said.
"The property taxes are utilised to cover street lights and garbage collection, and if they are not paying the taxes, that is to say we should not be collecting garbage from them nor should we be providing street lights for their convenience and safety," he said.
In neighbouring Trelawny, council chairman and mayor of Falmouth, Garth Wilkinson, had a slightly different viewpoint. He said many persons in his parish had been living on lands for decades but were unable to obtain titles, and this restricted them from obtaining building permits.
"When you go to the parish council to pay your building fees, you need proof of ownership. So persons who capture government land would not have proof of ownership... because there is nobody who suppose to live pon one government land fi 50 years that has not been regularised. We teck too long fi do things inna dis country and land is one of the most vexing issues for the Jamaican people," he said.
"There is another set now who jus feel say they can build at will. A lot of us don't want to pay for anything so dem jus naw pay di parish council. That is a different set from those that can't show ownership of the land," Wilkinson stated.