Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves says his government made five concessions to the four farmers near the resort in Buccament Bay in negotiations ahead of the compulsory acquisition of their lands.
Three of the farmers have accepted the government’s deal, while a third has rejected the offer and the government has noted his right to go to a tribunal.
The government has acquired the former Buccament bay Resort — which has been closed since December 2016 — and additional lands near it and will sell the entire property, including the additional lands to Sandals Resorts International for US$14 million.
Gonsalves told Parliament on Thursday that among the concessions that his government made was to double the market price of the land, arriving at a per-square-foot price of EC$12.
The farmers had plots of between 1.3 acres and 1.87 acres while another individual owned a 10,000 square foot plot, but the state is unsure about his whereabouts, knowing only that he lives overseas.
The finance minister said that two of the four farmers were actively farming on the land at the time of the acquisition.
“We held numerous discussions with the farmers. From the Chief Surveyor to the Honourable Prime Minister, we met with them at their homes, we met with them at their farms, and we met with them at the office of the honourable Prime Minister.
“And I was privileged to be a part of some of the discussions, and we approach our discussions with those farmers in the following way. We’re very transparent with them,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the government told the farmers that the per acre market rate for undeveloped land in that area without covenants was about EC$250,000 to EC$300,000.
The finance minister noted that when the farmers bought their lands – from the state almost 30 years ago – the sale include a number of covenants, including that the land could only be used for agriculture, they could not build on the land, and could not subdivide the land.
“But we said: let’s just work on market value. If your land is undeveloped, is selling in bulk by the acre, the going rate down there is between 250 and $300,000. That’s the first principle; the per-square-foot price for smaller undeveloped lots was $8 to $10 a square foot.
“So the first concession that we made in the negotiation was that we would discuss prices as if there were no restrictive covenants on the land. You have a covenant that would depress the value of the land. But we’ll talk about this land as if there are no covenants on the land,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
The second concession, he said, was to apply per square foot prices to the acres, meaning that instead of $250,000 an acre, they moved from EC$350,000 to EC$435,000, for an acre of agricultural land.
The third concession was a number of offers, one being that the government was willing to relocate the farmers to a similar or better piece of land in the same acreage in the immediate area.
“We were willing to rebuild homes existing on the property to a superior level than the structures that already existed on the property; we were willing to offer a relocation allowance to those electing to move their homes to a different plot.
“We were willing, through the Ministry of Agriculture, to till and clear any new plot that you wanted to move to. We’ve got a tractor, we’ve cleared the land, we’ll get it ready for you to plant,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the government was also willing to offer any combination of land and money that the farmer might have wanted.
“So some might want just to get paid off. Some would want only land; some might want a little bit of land and a little bit of money. And we said we are willing to do any of those permutations.”
Gonsalves said that the fourth concession was to allow the farmers time to remain on the existing plots of land, even after sale or acquisition, to allow them time to harvest their crops or purchase new land or build a new house.
“So we said even if we buy the land, even if we acquire the land today, the resort is not going to reach back there before November, December, so you can stay there while you set yourself up otherwise.”
The fifth was to raise the per acre price to $523,000 per acre for undeveloped agricultural land, which worked out about $12 a square foot if you’re doing it in square foot terms, and that is a roughly doubling of the prevailing price for an acre of undeveloped agricultural land in the area. We’re offering $523,000 per acre,” the minister said.
He said that pursuant to all of these concessions on all of these negotiations, “each of the farmers arrived at a handshake deal with the government that is a verbal agreement to terms. Some desired a straight cash payment, while others wanted a combination of cash and new plots of land, a house to relocate to.”
He said that one farmer has since “rescinded his verbal agreement and is considering whether to have his compensation adjudicated by a board of assessment, as is his right under the law,” Gonsalves said.
Shaka, one of the farmers concerned, has told iWitness News that he is willing to relocate but would accept EC$1.5 million for his land, EC$100,000 more than he refused from Harlequin when the originally being contemplated 14 years ago.
Gonsalves said that the other three farmers have signed agreements and have either received their money or will receive it whenever they go to pick it up.
“Those who had provided bank accounts have their money in a bank account. There was one or two of the gentlemen who said they didn’t want to deal with bank accounts, they wanted a cheque and their cheque is waiting for them. I spoke to one of them today and he said he was on his way to pick up his cheque because he had been notified that he got his cheque,” Gonsalves told parliament.
“So three of the four farmers have been paid or will be paid today. Other aspects of the compensation package like the relocation and the construction of houses is proceeding apace in full consultation with those who agreed to those types of compensation.
“We took into consideration, in making all of those concessions, the inconvenience to the farmers, their emotional attachment and the current realities of the situation. We added all of that into the mix in the compensation even though those types of consideration are not allowed by the land acquisition act, but it’s allowed in a private treaty negotiation, you can negotiate a mutually agreeable price,” Gonsalves said