Sugar workers placed in new homes to ride out storm
Some sugar workers in Golden Grove, St Thomas, say they appreciate being allowed into new, sturdier housing for the passage of Hurricane Matthew, but they are concerned about the lack of water, electricity and functioning sewage system.
The Government, which has permitted the move, may also face another worry, as some of the residents have reportedly declared that they will not move out of the houses after the hurricane passes.
"I am happy to be here, but we don't have any water nor nuh light," Joan Bright* told The Gleaner as she walked to her house at the Stokes Hall development site that is to accommodate more than 200 people.
Millicent Brown*, meanwhile, complained that she spent a lot of money to move her belongings from the old sugar barracks to the new units.
"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.
MAYOR IN THE DARK
Edwin Marr, acting mayor of Morant Bay, said he was not certain of the arrangements, especially regarding the provision of water.
"I am not sure what is going on regarding the situation. I spoke with the ministry about it yesterday (Saturday)," he said.
The Gleaner obtained a copy of a contract dated September 30, 2016 that residents had to sign, acknowledging they were being allowed into the houses because of the hurricane threat.
"I futher acknowledge that Housing Unit Lot No. ____ is not fully completed and ready for handover and that there are
still outstanding works to be undertaken. However, for my/our safety I/we agree to take temporary possession of the said Housing Unit at Lot," the contract states.
The contract also includes a clause that residents had to agree "to vacate and deliver up my/our temporary possession of the Housing Unit Lot No. ____ to the Government of Jamaica after Hurricane Matthew passes".
Reginald Budhan, acting permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, said the permission was never meant for the workers to live but to "ply" between the new houses and where they currently live.
He said the keys were issued over reports of vandalism and to help residents living in unsafe structures.
"We expect them to stay where they are and go there (new houses) to ride out the storm. We actually attempted to rent six portable toilets, but we didn't get them because the owners felt they were going to be blown away."
He could not say when the houses would be formally handed over, but said residents who stayed after the hurricane's passage would have to complete the electrification and water-connection processes.
The houses were built through the European Union-funded Sugar Transformation Programme in the agriculture ministry.
They are to replace dilapidated barrack structures in the Golden Grove Sugar Estate region.
*Name changed on request.
(Editor's note: Edwin Marr was incorrectly identified as Michael McLeod in an earlier version of this story)