‘We cannot trust SCJH’
Eviction fears grip Innswood Estate residents as electricity arrangement fizzles
Thirty-eight families occupying houses built for former sugar workers at Innswood Estate in St Catherine are on tenterhooks after the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings (SCJH) indicated last week that it would be discontinuing an arrangement under...
Thirty-eight families occupying houses built for former sugar workers at Innswood Estate in St Catherine are on tenterhooks after the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings (SCJH) indicated last week that it would be discontinuing an arrangement under which it paid their electric bills.
The arrangement was part of an accommodation package for former sugar workers in years gone by when they were given free lodging for working on the estate.
The SCJH, the present owners of the Innswood sugar lands, continued to pay the light bills for the families, who are descendants of the former sugar workers.
However, last Thursday, SCJH representatives met with the residents and informed them that the entity could no longer afford to foot the bills because of the increasing costs but indicated that it was willing to subsidise the costs to regularise them for individual pay-as-you-go metered systems with the Jamaica Public Service Company.
While the residents were not necessarily against the idea of paying their light bills, they claimed that there are lingering land-ownership concerns that the representatives of the SCJH were not willing to address. They also expressed concern over the cost for rewiring the houses. Some of the homes are badly in need of repairs before any rewiring to facilitate the proposed prepaid meters can be done.
“If they are going to implement pay-as-you-go, we gladly appreciate it, but at the end of the day, the concern is about the relocation of the people. If they are hosting a meeting, come prepared to answer this question,” Onisha Williams, a second-generation occupant of a house, said after a meeting last Thursday.
The media was barred from the meeting.
Williams said that while she is grateful for the SCJH footing the electric bills for the residents over the years, amounting to millions of dollars, there is a growing fear that after spending money to prepare the houses for the new electricity arrangement, they could face eviction of demolition in the future. It is a reality not lost on them after witnessing the early morning demolition of the homes of 15 families in February 2021 to facilitate the establishment of a housing development on a section of the property.
“We nuh want to fix the house dem and don’t know if we money a go down the drain. All the land dem lease out, and they can bruck down the house dem any time, so we want to know where we stand,” reasoned another resident, who asked not to be identified by name.
“We cannot trust SCJH. We see it happen before with the people dem who live up on the hill, and a long time we hear say dem plan to demolish the rest a house dem on Old Factory Road,” said the resident, who inherited her house from her parents, who were sugar workers.
SCJH Human Resource and Community Relations Manager Kerline Graham, who emerged from the meeting, told The Gleaner that it was a community-sensitisation session called to discuss an electricity-separation project, which the Government has plans to assist with, and not about the relocation of the residents.
“I can’t speak to that (relocation). It’s a separate matter that management will address. I was not given such a message. What we want to do right now is to ensure that we carry out the separation of the electricity on a fair basis,” Graham told The Gleaner when asked to address the residents’ concerns.
She dismissed the suggestion that the lands are leased to private interests, insisting that they remain SCJH lands.
Meanwhile, Kurt Matthews, the People’s National Party caretaker for St Catherine South Central, who attended the meeting, said his primary concern was that of peace of mind for the residents.
“This can only be attained by settling the issue of ownership of the spot they now occupy or relocation elsewhere and given security of tenure,” he argued.