Government has the right to acquire lands for a new airport terminal in Tobago, but this must be balanced against the constitutional rights of residents.
So advised Attorney Kelvin Ramkissoon, who facilitated a legal clinic on Monday night for residents who have been told that Government would be acquiring their lands to buld a new airport terminal for the ANR Robinson International airport. The clinic was organised by the Minority Council and held at the PanAm building in Crown Point.
On May 14, at a meeting billed as a public consultation, residents and property owners on lands identified by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Airport Authority (AATT) were first told that Government would be using compulsory acquisition for some 84 acres.
In his presentation, Ramkissoon told residents that under the land laws of Trinidad and Tobago, Government has a right to acquire lands for public purposes, but this must be balanced against the rights of citizens.
“The Land Acquisition, Compulsory Acquisition, is what we call a big stick approach. It is an approach by which the Government compulsory acquires, but there is a more humane, compassionate way to deal with this and it is acquiring the lands by private purchase or private treaty and the law provides for this under the Land Acquisition Act.
“That right must be balanced against your rights, you as citizens have constitutional rights. The rights say that you are subject to due process and fairness in the process,” he said.
Told by residents that they have seen no plans for any new terminal building, Ramkisson also advised:
“You are entitled to what is called consultation in law. It cannot be what we call cat in bag, you are entitled to fair and adequate consultation. Consultation is giving you a fair opportunity to comment on what is called the embryonic formative or early stages of the decision.The Government is entitled to acquire lands for a public purpose, that is fine, we cannot challenge that law, the law is there. (But) You have a right to know, you have a right to information, to see plans.”
“When the lands have been identified, the Government has to publish in the daily newspaper or the publication known as the Gazette, which is the Government’s newspaper where the information such as acts of Parliament are published, and the Government has to serve what is called a Section 3 notice… that authorises the Commissioner of State Lands and State agents to come into the land to conduct certain tests.
“You can’t really do anything about it, but you must know what is going on. You must know whether the lands are required, what compensation am I entitled to.”
Ramkissoon cited the case of acquisition of private lands for construction of the Point Fortin Highway in Trinidad, saying that a similar process must be applied for Tobago.
“What they did in the Point Fortin highway and what I am making a case here for … is for you to be treated in the same way as persons were treated in Trinidad. Months before they identified parcels of lands for resettlement, to house those residents in Claxton Bay and in other parts in Trinidad, they identified them (residents), and they identified sites with infrastructure, roads, fire hydrants, water, electricity, that is what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Ramkissoon also advised residents that they were entitled to fair and adequate consultation and to free services of counsellors and psychologists for those who may need them.
“The Tobago people must not fall short of this, that is your right - your right to know and have knowledge and information on what is required,” he said.
Referring to Section 12 of the Land Acquisition Act which deals with the adequate compensation, Ramkissoon also noted that assessment of compensation follows rules and is not based on “what they want to pay you.”
“The law provides for an open market value, so if you decide to sell your parcel of land to Mr X for the purpose of opening a shop, hotel or some business or even for residential purposes, you call your price, it is either the man is willing to pay, or he is not. Those are the principles upon which compensation is to be assessed,” he said.