“Regardless of whatever section notices have been given, there would be no movement before resettlement.”
This is the bold stance adopted by residents from Canaan/Bon Accord affected by the construction of the new terminal and supporting infrastructural works at the ANR Robinson International Airport.
In a press release last Thursday, the National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (Nidco) said residents now have until February 2020 to vacate their property and hand it over to the State.
The release said: “Section 4 Legal Notices for the acquisition of lands were published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette on September 6 and are currently being served to affected landowners and occupiers. The Section 4 Legal Notice allows the State to enter and take possession of land to start construction of the new airport.”
It noted affected residents will have six months from the service of Section 4 Legal Notices to vacate, adding that affected residents are encouraged to submit their claims for compensation and begin the process of negotiation for settlement as soon as possible.
Speaking with members of the media on Monday, during a news conference at Signal Hill, spokesperson on behalf of the residents, Rhonda Hackett said residents are maintaining that they will not be moving until proper housing arrangements are put in place.
“When we examine plans for the project closely, one would realise that there is very little to nothing in place for the residents, even at this point in time. The request of the residents is quite simple: we expect that there would be resettlement before movement.
“As it is currently, yes, there has been conversation with the government and a lot of what has been promised has not been honoured. For example, we were told that lands would be prepared for residents, however when you look at the areas that they have indicated that are earmarked for resettlement, they have not even as much as gotten an EMA clearance to have any level of development at these sites – yet eviction notices are issued.”
Hackett said the mood among residents was one of "total dissatisfaction and much to be desired and expected.”
She said they have received legal advice and are exploring their options.
She reiterated residents are welcoming the government’s development plans but from the onset they've been treated with “disrespect, disregard and dishonesty.”
“What the THA first announced when they first came with this land acquisition proposition was that residents would be given three different options from which residents would be able to choose. It was money only, a land swap and land and money, to which majority of the residents have chosen land and money as their preferred option. But we are now been told that the State is only going to issue persons cheques.
“We support the airport terminal construction, let us do it right and let Tobagonians not be disrespected in this manner; better can be done, let better be done,” she said.
Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles has promised the option of cash and subsidised land but residents say the areas designated remain without electricity and other infrastructure and would not be inhabitable by the February 2020 deadline.
Visibly emotional, Hackett said residents will continue to agitate until their voices are heard.
She said residents have made approaches to their area representative, Parliamentary representative, the Chief Secretary and even the Prime Minister to seek assistance.
“Mr Charles (THA Chief Secretary) has been meeting with PEECE, which took place on August 26, and informed us that it is the THA’s duty to exercise a duty of care for the residents of Tobago, and in that regard, the THA is seeking to ensure that the residents are treated fairly and that the transition is as smooth as possible. Two weeks later… which is currently, following these promises, residents have been hard hit with eviction notices, with the only thing that is visible to hold onto are empty promises.”
Last Friday, Charles in a press release noted that the THA had established a team to provide emotional and psychological support to residents affected.
It read, “This is not an easy time for the residents. We understand the anxiety and fears that developments such as these can cause and therefore, as the THA, we continue to provide a level of support and comfort.”
Hackett was pleased with the initiative, which she said was "a dire need" for frustrated residents.