Landowners cry foul
by Lyf Compton
Owners of a piece of land at Richmond Hill which the government is acquiring have cried foul about the government’s motives and the manner in which the authorities are going about the process.
Dr Wayne Murray and his wife Simone Murray say the issue is one of human rights and to them, a clear case of victimization.
Dr Murray told SEARCHLIGHT on Thursday that the area of land being acquired by the government is not clearly demarcated, so it is possible that their family home may also be taken from them or they could end up having neighbours extremely close to their residence.
The first publication of the Government’s intention to acquire the land under Section 3 of the Land Acquisition Act, Chapter 24 appeared in the Government Gazette of July 28, 2020 and refers to approximately three acres of land at Richmond Hill belonging to Simone Murray et al.
“Clearly this is not a principled exercise. The document is vague, and this decision was made by government without proper dialogue,” Dr Murray told SEARCHLIGHT.
He said the family will not challenge the acquisition, but they want the public to know what is going on.
“We would not go to court and be made a fool of by the government as they have done other people. They are using a heavy hand, so let them continue and be judged by the people,” Dr Murray said.
The physician, originally from Grenada, said the land has been in his wife’s family for close to 100 years and at some point, in the early 1990’s or thereabouts, the family rented house spots to persons for meagre sums.
He said that most of these house spots were rented to single female headed households and provided a much-needed refuge. Rents were as low as $60 per year and eventually moved to $25 per month in some cases.
He explained that the rent was not about making a profit but to ensure a tenant landlord relationship. Dr Murray said that many times, persons did not pay but they were never asked to leave.
In 2005, some of the tenants were given notice to vacate within five years. A few did not move and were taken to court and had eviction notices served on them. Two of the three family members who occupied house spots were again taken to court in 2014 and were given orders to vacate the premises due to non-payment of rent and bad behaviour.
Dr Murray said that recently, because of continued and increasing problems with what he considers illegal activities by 11 of the 16 persons living in the households on the property, he and his wife decided to serve eviction notices to the 11.
He made allegations of gambling, stealing of agricultural produce, cutting and selling of wood, pilfering of building materials and continued refusal to pay rent and other more serious crimes.
The physician said that incidents, including murders, have been highlighted in the national media while tenants’ homes have been broken into. Recently, a tenant was tied up and robbed, claims Dr Murray.
He noted also that some persons who had been given notice even tried to claim possessory title of their house spots. He said that attempt failed after an investigation revealed that all taxes were up to date.
Dr Murray said the decision by the Government to acquire the land seems to have been taken after these issues with their tenants arose and it is unfair, because as owners, they are being terrorised by the some of the same people who will now become their legal neighbours.
He said that in his opinion, the law under which lands are acquired in SVG is very vague and he sees no clear reasoning under which the land is being taken from them.
He said if the land was needed for a public reason like a school or hospital then he would see the reasoning, but there are lands all over the country that can be given to the current tenants.
“This has been done out of spite. Government has done and continues to do things to disfranchise this family. There are tenants who refuse to pay rent, criminal elements…,” said Dr Murray who added that only 11 of the persons they consider problematic were asked to leave while the other five are good people.
“This is not an issue where we wake up one day and decided. We are not bad people, we had court orders that allow us to take off roofs and we never did that,” the irate man noted.
He said that since the decision to acquire the land was published in the Gazette, his problematic neighbours have become emboldened and he has in some instances been baited to make a bad move.
“I would plant things and their goats would eat our flowers and crops and we should not complain, and they threaten me. They harvest fruits and sell but my wife and family should accept that.
“An election is near so they feel they can offer what’s not theirs,” Dr Murray said.
He noted also that what was published in the Government Gazette does not give them the ability to do their own valuation of the land the government is acquiring.
“They are using ambiguity for victimization… because we are not raising a red flag up and down town,” said Murray.
Commenting, Simone said only part of the land is suitable for housing and that part belongs to her cousin who was hoping to build on it.
She also noted that in 2011 and 2015, there were landslides that damaged some of the houses, which strengthened her view that the land is more suitable for agricultural purposes.
She said that to date, nobody has officially approached them about the price that will be paid for the land.
“For me I can’t take anything with me when I leave this earth, but it is a matter of principle and I expected better from the ministers of government. What they are doing is actually encouraging lawlessness,” said Simone.
She added that some of the tenants have lands in other parts of the island, but they do not seem interested in going there.
Minister of Housing, Informal Human Settlements, Lands, Surveys and Physical Planning Montgomery Daniel said on Thursday that he was not in a position to comment on the issue.