KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Squatter Emrol John, the Vermont resident who is being accused of delaying construction of the Vermont-Francois Bridge because of the location of his house, said that he is ready to move even now.
John, who has been given until Sunday to demolish his three-bedroom house or have it demolished by the government at his expense, however, said that contrary to information in the public, the government never offered him a relocation package until yesterday.
John, who lives at the house with his common-law wife and three children — ages 7, 13, 18, and 21 — told I-Witness News Thursday night that he was only offered a relocation package earlier that day.
“What they say is they would give me … six months’ rent and [the] value [of] the property,” he said.
John has identified a piece of land that he can move to. The land, owned by a private citizen, is valued EC$23,000.
“Me ready fuh move all now. Because if they did give me an offer before, I wudda done move from here. They never [gave] me any offer … until today,” he said.
“No, that is not true,” John said in response to statements by former deputy prime Sir Louis Straker on radio yesterday that John had refused a relocation offer that included the government paying six months’ rent for him an his family.
“I [went] and locate the land. Mr Straker [said] the government would either relocate me and if there was any land around that he could have gotten, the government [would have] purchased it for me. And that is since 2010 and I never [heard] anything from Straker them [until] this month here. And this is 2012.”
John further denied refusing to go to see Sir Louis at his office while the former minister of foreign affairs, who quit politics in December 2010, was still in office.
“No. Mr Straker didn’t invite me to come to his office. He [told] someone to … tell me that when I get the land to come and check him. And I gave the Chief Surveyor the message to give him and nobody never come back to me from that time,” John said.
“I [visited] Mr. Julian Francis, I [visited] the Prime Minister, I [visited the Chief Engineer] Brent Bailey. I [visited] them on many occasions and no one gave me an offer until today. Mr. Brent Bailey … had me in his office and [gave] me that offer,” John said.
South Leeward representative, opposition legislator Nigel Stephenson said Wednesday night that he and John chanced upon each other while visiting Bailey’s office to discuss John’s relocation last week Monday.
According to Stephenson, Bailey said that John had already identified crown lands in Vermont and the state would pay for it.
“That was last Monday and they were having Cabinet on Wednesday. So, I said to Mr. Bailey, ‘Well, since Cabinet is the body that is ultimately responsible for making the decision to relocate Mr. John, and they haven’t met as yet, can we now safely say that Mr. John is not the person responsible for the delay of the construction of the bridge?’ He said, ‘I agree with you, he is not the person’,” Stephenson said in recounting his conversation with Bailey.
But John told I-Witness News that while the state has offered him a relocation package he was not given any documents or told when to collect them. “No document, no paper, no nothing. … I am ready to move because ah really want to see the bridge [built],” he said, adding that he was told that government officials would visit to value his house.
Asked if he would move by Sunday, as ordered, John told I-Witness News: “Well, I don’t know because right now, I don’t have [anywhere] to go by Sunday. So I have to stay until I have somewhere to go. Because ah me and me family.”
John said that he has been living at the spot since 2000. “This place here was a dumpsite and for some years ago I clean it up and say well I don’t want to live pon the street,” he said.
He, however, denied that former or current South Leeward representatives Jerry Scott and Nigel Stephenson, both of the New Democratic Party, encouraged him not to relocate.
“Me and Jerry Scott and Nature them never talk them thing dey. … People are saying these things. Because the position I live in now, Jerry or Nature can’t tell me whether to move or to stay. Ah me have to decide that because me live in a dangerous place here right now. The river [is] just about three feet from me,” he said.
“Me just ah wait on the government and see how far we could go from here,” he said.
I-Witness News yesterday contacted a government’s spokesperson for verification of the relocation package being offered to John. But the spokesperson, up to 7:30 last night, was unable to confirm what was on offer to the Vermont family.
The Unity Labour Party administration, since coming to office in 2001, has adopted a policy of offering relocation packages to persons, including squatters, displaced by the construction of state-financed infrastructure.
But Minister of Works Senator Julian Francis told Parliament last year that notwithstanding this policy and a provisional sum in the contract for John’s relocation, he would not recommend that John be found land to relocate to “because he was advised by persons close to the Member for South Leeward and persons close to the New Democratic Party to put his house there”.
Francis, however, said on radio this week that that the government has gone beyond its policy in the assistance offered to John. According to Francis, the government has offered to pay six months’ rent for a house for John and his family, to pay for the value of his house, allocate construct a house, paying for the land when he can.