Breaking News: Destruction in Clifton expresses support, to criticize Andrew Holness

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This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the demolition of approximately numerous houses that were being built on lands reportedly captured and sold by unauthorized persons in Clifton, located in the Greater Bernard Lodge development area in St Catherine.

The demolition of the houses, ordered by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, created a firestorm, with numerous persons verbally attacking the Government for the move, while others agreed that it is time the authorities take a stand on the illegal capturing of land to build squatter settlements.

On the day of the destruction of the houses, homeowners were left in tears, looking on helplessly as men on tractors worked to demolish the structures.

One woman, in a viral video, wept openly as she explained that she had paid a man $800,000 for her plot of land.

As the sitting of the House of Representatives drew to a close on Wednesday, it was announced that Prime Minister Andrew Holness would make a statement, leaving many to pontificate on the subject matter of such importance that the nation’s political leader would address Parliament on.

Then he outlined the trouble at hand facing the highly-touted Greater Bernard Lodge development area in St Catherine, which is being touted to become Jamaica’s first smart city.

When completed, the development is to be comprised of a mix of residential housing, commercial and light commercial activities in several blocks, as well as farming activities. It covers a total of 5,400 acres, with the majority (3,027 acres) being reserved for agriculture.

Holness said the informal community of Clifton which is made up of mostly former sugar workers and their descendants, took shape in the middle of the Bernard Lodge lands and predated the development plan.

He noted that since at least 2009, successive governments have taken the decision to regularise the community which falls in the St Catherine South constituency of Member of Parliament (MP) Fitz Jackson.

According to the prime minister, gangsters have captured lands in proximity to Clifton and have been preying on the residents.

Regarding the wider development, Holness said the National Security Council has taken a “great interest in looking at all elements of security in the area”.

He said following surveillance and the submission of a report, “we have discovered that in proximity to Clifton, there is an area that has been captured”.

Specifically, Holness said it has been determined that gangsters have been selling lots of land to people in the captured area.

“The National Security Council in reviewing the development plan, has observed an insidious and growing threat in the area, where alleged gangsters were capturing lands in the area adjoining the Clifton community, creating their own informal subdivision, and selling the lands under the false pretext of ownership or building on it themselves,” said Holness.

The prime minister said the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings Limited, which owns the lands, had given warnings and served notices for individuals to cease and desist. But, he said, “the capturing and illegal construction has continued to the point where some 30 structures have been identified.”

Holness stressed that while the Government wants every Jamaican to own their own home, it must be done in an orderly and legal way.

“This illegal capturing and building on public or private land will not be tolerated,” he warned, adding that “we will not allow criminal gangs to create communities in the country”.

The prime minister told the House that directions had been given to the security forces to have a strong presence in the area to treat with any threats from any criminal element that may want to interrupt or exercise control or present any obstacle to the Government rectifying the situation.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (file photo)

He said: “The JDF has deployed a forward-operating base meters away from this area and are conducting regular patrols, and has created a security blanket, including regular drone surveillance, to see whether there will be any movement by criminals in the area.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) the Government will act to demolish those structures that have been illegally erected,” stated Holness, adding that the Government will take steps to deal with structures that have been completed and are occupied.

“To be clear, they will not be allowed to stand,” he said.

Then the day of reckoning came on Thursday morning when a joint police-military team offered supervision to demolition crews at the section of the Clifton community where the supposed illegal homes were being built.

Many of the unfinished homes were eventually destroyed, leaving behind rubbles of the structures that once stood in all their glory.

One of the homeowners was a 23-year-old woman who was grief-stricken as she spoke to the media.

“Mi all guh look work just fi come pay workman and everything. See it deh, everything gone. Mi nuh know weh fi duh nuh more,” said the woman as tears streamed down her face during a media interview.

She explained that her hairdresser had introduced her to a man who she, in turn, gave her tax registration number (TRN), identification card and the $800,000 for the land to build on. She also said she received a receipt from the individual.

In regards to the demolition, the young woman wailed that, “Nobody nuh gimmi nuh likkle warning, nutten dem nuh gimi.”

She added that: “Mi just a pass and soldier a tell mi seh dem a lick dung di place.

“Mi jus’ haffi hurry up fi gah work… A $300 mi gah (go) a work wdh a mawning time, ’cause mi nuh have it. Mi a save fi build house yah suh, suh mi nuh know weh fi duh,” said the woman as she sobbed further.

Some of the affected individuals claimed that several civil servants were victims of the demolition exercise, or had unfinished houses on other areas of the land.

Parliamentarian Fitz Jackson, in whose South St Catherine constituency the Clifton community falls, told Loop News on Thursday that a probe is to be carried out into reports that people with documents to show that they were given approval by the authorities to be on sections of the Bernard Lodge property, were also affected by the demolition exercise that took place.

On social media, there was a mixture of perspectives on the issue, which generated heated, passionate discussions.

To the young lady crying in the media interview that has since gone viral, one Facebook user, Moe Moe Vari Bae, did not join the masses who criticized her for purchasing the illegal land.

“People really need to stop criticizing the young lady,” the woman wrote.

“She (the grief-stricken homeowner) has a lot of ambition to build her own home… A Nuff young people a try them way out. At least give her notice or something… Nuff more out deh live pan capture land. Ppl (people) have no heart smh,” Moe Moe Vari Bae contended.

Not all felt any sympathy for the woman whose structure was demolished.

Fitz Jackson 

“Girl you can’t be so naïve. ppl will take advantage of you,” stated Sabs Gee, another Facebook user.

Arnold Powell shared: “In 2022 yuh buying land without a lawyer and in which day and age yuh getting any land for $800K? Sorry for you, but not sorry.”

To the wider demolition exercise, social media user, Jermaine Robinson,  commented: “I’m here wondering if this could have been handled differently. 

“I understand the Government’s position, but couldn’t they have confiscated the houses and converted them to the Social Housing Programme, then pay the people for the materials used to build the houses?” he questioned.

“At least there wouldn’t be a total loss of the resources that went into building these houses. I hate to see scarce resources go to waste!!” Robinson indicated.

The conversation also took on the usual political tone.

Opined Shari Mason: “The constituency is a PNP (People’s National Party) constituency, so we know why the demolition was done. No heart Mr. Holness!”

To that comment, Luke Henry said: “Law and order must be maintained in Jamaica! No to squatting, houses demolished, and argument is done. Congrats PM.”

But facing criticisms for the exercise that destroyed the unfinished homes, Holness journeyed to Clifton in Bernard Lodge to meet with the residents, who he promised an opportunity to obtain a mortgage and a legitimate home.

“The Government didn’t come acting to take away anybody’s land,” Holness told the residents in the community on Friday.

“Now, some of the houses that are already here, what we have said when we gave the direction to move with demolition is that if structures are incomplete, demolish those.

“… And you know why? Those structures are actually on agricultural land. If you look at it – and you have to be truthful – they are on the farmland, right,” he indicated and asked rhetorically.

Holness also advised that if the house has a roof or decking, it would not be demolished. The owners, he said, would have to, however, explain to the authorities how they came by land, and the Government will try to facilitate them.

For his part, MP Jackson assured the residents that there will be a halt on all further demolition of unfinished structures, to facilitate dialogue with SCJ Holdings and other authorities.

During Holness’ visit, there were tense exchanges, as some residents refuted claims by the prime minister in Parliament on Wednesday that gangsters had been selling the lands under the pretext of ownership, or building on them.

“When we examined the situation, we only acted when we were certain that certain steps were taken. So we had the evidence of the posting of stop orders,” Holness said before he was interrupted by a resident, who exclaimed, “That’s a lie!”

The prime minister maintained that the SCJ had posted stop orders “twice”. He added that he was informed that the SCJ had been “trying to find people who were doing the structures that were incomplete, (but) nobody would come forward.”

Again, the resident disputed that account.

Despite those assertions by the residents, Holness indicated that “The Government has to allow you this flexibility (to discuss with SCJ Holdings), and this is why we say you will be able to access a mortgage.

“You’ll be able to buy your house, and pay over time the same way you’re doing it now…”

He again assured the residents that they will not be left behind in the Greater Bernard Lodge Development.

“So you are in this community now without a road that is properly paved, without a road that has water and sewer line in it, in a community that is not planned.

“I’m saying to you let us change from this way of settlement to a different way of settlement, where things are orderly, and we won’t leave you out,” declared Holness.

Still, some social media users were critical of the prime minister’s visit to the Clifton community after the demolition was completed.

“So the man who ordered the destruction is also comforting the people who are affected by his instructions? Laughable,” commented Ainsley Walker, a Facebook user.

Natalee Simpson posted: “Going to the residents after the demolition will achieve what? Why you didn’t meet with them before and work on an agreement because the house frames were already up. This is cold behavior PM!”

Peta Gaye Clarke, however, did not agree with those remarks.

“I notice (and) waited (on) some a unu… unu nuh get facts before unu chat… The ppl (people) dem wrong and if the PM neva guh dat wudda be a different story,” wrote Clarke.

Kerry Mentor commented: “I have no sympathy for these people because the land set for agriculture and the land could never sell so cheaply, so the PM’s presence is just to show he understands, but I would demolish everything if I was PM.”

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