By C ben-David
In a December 2014 news item, iWitness News reported that the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, revealed in Parliament that his government had yet to pay 150 owners at Argyle for property legally expropriated from them more than six years earlier to build the new international airport, some of which contained houses and other buildings and some of which were vacant.
“Gonsalves said 143 built properties (houses) were purchased and demolished and 452 vacant parcels of land were acquired by the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC)…. Of the 143 built properties, 139 homeowners were paid EC$60.4 million, but four owners of built property are to be paid EC$1.5 million. He, however, said there are 106 parcels of land for which the owners are yet to submit deeds to the IADC to evidence ownership.
“We are putting aside roughly 12 million dollars to cover those 106 parcels, which is the estimated cost, when, of course, the persons provide the evidence and the documentation to complete the legal transaction.”
At a February 2017 ceremony at AIA at which certificates of appreciation were presented to former property owners at Argyle who were relocated for the construction of the international airport, the Prime Minster revealed that the government was still negotiating with one homeowner who had not been paid because he and the government have been unable to agree on a price
No mention was made about how many of the alleged owners of the 106 vacant parcels of land identified by him in 2014 were still not paid for because these persons were unable to establish legal ownership over the properties in question, an essential requirement in any land transaction whether it involves the state or ordinary citizens: how many of us would buy a house, car, or plot of land from someone without knowing whether they owned the property or not? Yes, I know, stolen or otherwise illegally obtained property is bought and sold every day in our homeland but it is a crime punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment to do so.
During the same ceremony, Rudy Matthias, then head of the International Airport Development Company (IADC), said the former homeowner has not been paid because he and the government have been unable to agree on a price and no compromise is in sight.
“Well, the prime minister talked about negotiation. This one is a little bit of negotiation because their price is here and ours is over there and there is no possibility at all of meeting,” Matthias told a ceremony at the airport on Wednesday, in which certificates of appreciation were presented to the former property owners.
“And I don’t think this one would ever meet. Perhaps, not until I am dead you will ever see the meeting of these two minds,” he said of the incomplete negotiations with the former property owners.”
Now, we have an e-mail sent to the Prime Minister by A (& H) Jennings claiming that “the government is cheating the landowners of Argyle that have had their land compulsorily ‘purchased’ by the IADC…. My understanding is that there is a list of more than 60 people still waiting for money that is rightfully theirs, including my family”.
The Jennings may or may not be the sole home or business owners out of 142 who were unable to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with the government.
Nevertheless, the rest of the 60 purported owners, if this number is indeed correct, are owners of vacant land who either cannot prove ownership of the parcels in question or, in a few cases at most, who are still legally negotiating with the government over a fair market price that nearly all former landowners and, at most, one former house owner freely negotiated with the government.
In sum, of the 452 plots of vacant land that were legally expropriated to build AIA, only 106 were not paid for as of February 2014, of which no more than 59 – or 13 percent — have still not been paid for, in most cases because of a failure to establish legal ownership.
Yes, this government may be guilty of many misdeeds, including the very construction of a Potemkin-like international airport at Argyle. But it is certainly not guilty of “cheating the landowners of Argyle”.
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