Squatters target bauxite lands hoping to get new houses
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Unscrupulous Jamaicans are unrelenting in their efforts to swindle bauxite companies out of new houses built as replacement for mined-out properties.
The companies say fraudsters are using every known trick to get new houses or compensation for structures erected hastily on lands slated to be mined.
The problem has been a troubling one for years, the companies say.
"False declarations have been made as to the ownership for lands. False documents have also been presented to companies in an attempt to get houses," Diane Gordon, spokeswoman of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute told The Sunday Gleaner.
"When they know what the mining plans are, and they see the company personnel come and start negotiating with the people, they would settle on land not belonging to them. They would erect a partial structure or plant crops for the purpose of being compensated," added Gordon.
According to Gordon, squatters have, in some instances, positioned themselves as family members and sought to act on behalf of the legitimate residents on lands.
She said it was part of the plan to seek relocation with the existing families, but proof of tenure is required.
When there is no proof of tenure, the tricksters claim adverse possession.
Under the law, adverse possession allows individuals squatting on lands for a period of 12 years to obtain a title, if the true owner fails to provide his or her proof of ownership.
After 12 years, the squatter can bring a claim for a title, whether the land is registered or unregistered.
The adverse-possession claim is a practice that is all too familiar to Jamalco, the Clarendon-based bauxite company.
"Individuals squatting on lands earmarked for mining are an ongoing threat. What you have is migration into these areas, with the clear intention of trying to get new houses," said Leo Lambert, corporate services manager at Jamalco.
"They erect shacks, and set up camps, and some claim adverse possession of the lands in an effort to get houses," added Lambert.
He was quick to make it clear that Jamalco has no problems with the "ordinary, genuine individuals" with whom the company has had good relations over the years.
"To them we offer compensation for whatever crops are on the lands before it is mined. And there is an industry framework for compensation.
"Those to be relocated are moved to schemes built by the company, including McGilchrist Farms and New Bowens and there are set guidelines for that," said Lambert, also an attorney-at-law.
He admitted that there were some bureaucratic humbugs being encountered by legitimate landowners in securing titles.
One of the humbugs involves lands passed down for decades to generations without a title.
"Bauxite companies deal with owners. If squatters are on the land, there is no way that an exchange will happen because they can't prove ownership.
"If they have crops on the lands they will be compensated but certainly no houses will be given. Houses are huge investments and I doubt the companies will be handing them over with minimal documentation," said Gordon.
"The companies would never resettle anyone who can't show proof of ownership. They may just get compensated for crops or whatever value of structure. But not re-location, no," she stated.
In Manchester, Alumina Partners (Alpart), though it ceased operation since 2009, has a somewhat different resettlement programme. Lands to be mined are purchased in advanced.
No fewer than 15 resettlement subdivisions have been constructed by the company in central and south Manchester as well as in St Elizabeth.
" The company resists rewarding this (squatting) practice. Where this is done, the company negotiates to exclude the shack or arrange to have the shack valued and pay the value - not replace it with a new house," said Julian Keane, public relations officer at Alpart.
"Where disputes arise, the Commissioner of Mines can also be called in to assist in the negotiation of acquisition," added Keane.
"Ultimately, the company can refuse to purchase the land and walk away."
Keane said the purchase or lease contract is negotiated between the company and the land owner, and purchase prices are negotiated based on the size of land to be acquired, the size and type of buildings on the property, and any permanent economic trees on the property.
"Contract agreement may be for straight cash or a mixture of cash and resettlement of the property owner on alternative lands," Keane explained.
Repeated attempts to contact a representative for West Indies Alumina Company were unsuccessful.
Windalco has mining operations at Ewarton, Kirkvine and Port Esquivel and the company has relocated individuals in Faiths Pen to Happy Content and Unity Valley subdivisions.