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Clifton land-titling effort met with resistance from residents amid growing mistrust

Published:Monday | February 27, 2023 | 1:19 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Clifton, St Catherine.
Clifton, St Catherine.

A decision by the Holness administration to distribute an initial 50 land titles to residents of Clifton, St Catherine, has been met with resistance from residents, who are demanding that all the titles be issued at the same time. Clifton was a...

A decision by the Holness administration to distribute an initial 50 land titles to residents of Clifton, St Catherine, has been met with resistance from residents, who are demanding that all the titles be issued at the same time.

Clifton was a sugar workers community for several decades with successive generations of sugar workers living there.

In May 2015, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller began issuing certificates of possession to residents with a promise that Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings (SCJH) Limited would begin the process of regularising the community and give them ownership of the plots they owned. Some 101 certificates were distributed with just over 400 families had been living there.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who visited Clifton last October after the Government ordered the demolition of 30 illegally constructed houses on lands adjacent to the informal settlement, had assured the residents that the SCJH was in the process of regularising the community and already had titles for distribution to persons who had been initially settled there.

Noting that the Government has acknowledged Clifton as a legitimate community and would protect the property rights of the residents, Holness said that the issue of boundary verification remained. He indicated that there would be some boundary adjustments where roads would have to be put in and houses relocated, a process that could delay the mass distribution of all the titles at the same time.

Despite this assurance, recent plans to formally hand out 50 titles that are ready for distribution had to be cancelled because the residents refused to participate in the process, claiming that they want all the titles to be handed out at the same time. They fear that after those 50 titles are handed out, that will be the end of the process.

The residents are particularly concerned in the wake of the demolition exercise nearby after persons were allegedly sold lands without SCJH authorisation to unsuspecting persons.

Patrick Edwards, who has been living in the community for six years, thinks that the idea of distributing only some of the titles would be unfair to the other residents who are waiting for titles.

“I am 100 per cent in support of the action taken by everybody. We don’t want any segregation in here. We want unity. There should be one ceremony and everybody get at the same time,” Edwards said, adding that anything less would foster disunity.

“We can’t trust them. We want all of us to get our title at the same time. One for all and all for one. Nothing less,” declared another resident, who claimed his parents were former Bernard Lodge sugar workers who were settled there under a former PNP administration.

The residents said that the chronic water crisis and bad road conditions in the community also need to be addressed.

“No good water. A canal water we have to use, and when rain fall, we can’t come out or go in because of the bad road,” one resident claimed.

While most of the residents who spoke with The Gleaner during a visit to the community last Saturday harbour a growing mistrust of the process, a few indicated that they were in support of the move to distribute the ready documents.

“I don’t see a problem with the Government handing out the titles that ready. If we were paying for the land, only those who finish paying would get title, so mi nuh see nothing wrong with the 50 people getting their title,” reasoned one resident, who also lamented the condition of the roads and the water woes affecting the community.

Another Clifton resident said that those who refused to participate in the handing over of the 50 titles should not – and do not – speak for everybody.

“This is a start. The rest will have to come, so I don’t see the reason why they reject the 50. It’s just the beginning. The rest will come one day,” the resident argued.

Meanwhile, St Catherine Southern Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson is calling on the Government to fast-track the boundary-adjustment and road-alignment processes to give the people some assurance.

“Following on the heels of the demolition exercise, their fears and mistrust cannot be dispelled. What the Government can do, having recognised Clifton as a legitimate community, is expedite the process of regularising the community to give the people security of tenure and comfort,” Jackson told The Gleaner.

He said that addressing water, sewerage, and road concerns should be done simultaneously.