THE disbursement of $41 million to 29 property owners in the first wave of compensation for the ANR Robinson International Airport has been dismissed as a "political gimmick" by the chairperson of Provide Equitable Compensation for Everyone (PEECE) group, Rhonda Hackett.
PEECE represents residents affected by the construction of a new airport terminal and associated works project at the ANR Robinson International Airport in Crown Point.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced the compensation for property owners representing 5.33 acres of the 53 acres needed for the project. It includes one commercial, four residential and two mixed (home/business) properties.
Hackett said in an interview with Newsday on Friday: “This is nothing more than a political gimmick for the election and to create a false impression that things are taking place."
Hackett accused the Government of hypocrisy by appealing for leniency towards tenants but being bullish towards affected property owners.
"Why the rush? Covid(19) or no covid(19), we are moving full speed ahead. This Government is highly irresponsible and rushing people off their lands during covid19, although they have warned landlords not to do so. A cheque in hand will not do.”
Hackett was also sceptical of the quantum of the compensation, describing it as "no money" compared to the stress involved.
“The public has been told that persons would treat fairly and compensated adequately. Forty-one million dollars for 29 property owners, which is inclusive of commercial or business properties, if you do the math...is no money.
"And with the uncertainty with the cost of living as we move on, my heart goes out to those persons who have placed themselves at the mercy of the Government because this operation is unsatisfactory and we will not settle for it.”
The $41 million payment, the ministry said, will be made by the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) on behalf of the State. Property owners, it said, are being contacted by ACQ and Associates, the land acquisition consultant undertaking the process on behalf of the State, for the execution of legal indemnity agreements and collection of payments. It added that the State will enter and take possession of settled empty lands as soon as compensation is paid.
But Hackett has an issue with that, saying the notices under the Land Acquisition Act handed to owners on September 6, 2019, have expired, as the statutory six-month period elapsed in March.
"That notice also gave Nidco, the implementing agency, the power to initiate discussion, negotiation and settlement.
"But as it is right now, Nidco no longer has any authority to come onto people’s properties and to pursue any further discussion towards negotiation and settlement.
"So, they are operating outside of the law. They are not operating in a fair and lawful manner, they are trampling upon the rights of citizens and threatening people’s livelihood.
“Those who would be collecting cheques today (June 12) have placed themselves at the mercy of the government. How are we as residents to know that there is a clearly defined standard which guides the operation which would be fair across the board?"
She also asked where these property owners are expected to go.
“The notice indicated that upon receipt of cheques, persons are expected to evacuate with immediate effect – to go where? Birds have nests, dogs have kennels, but we have nowhere for persons to relocate,” she said.
In June 2019, THA officials informed the affected residents they would be offered land at subsidised prices to build new homes.
Head of the THA airport relocation committee Allan Richards told residents land had been allocated at Shirvan, Cove and Courland.
THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis recently said the assembly will complete the development of the housing and commercial plots “soon" and it would be sold to affected residents "at a price lower than market price.”