Chief Secretary: Treat Bon Accord residents humanely, compensate them fairly

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this August 2021 file photo, an excavator is at work on the ANR Robinson airport expansion project at Store Bay Local Road, Crown Point, Tobago. File photo/David Reid

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has reiterated that residents who are being displaced to facilitate the expansion of the ANR Robinson airport must be relocated in a humane manner and compensated fairly.

“Barring not paying the people properly for their lands, I will not support just kicking them off. That is where my bone of contention is,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

He had just addressed the launch of the St John’s Parish Universal Service Fund Broadband Infrastructure Project at the Parlatuvier Multipurpose Facility.

Last Thursday, attempts were made to evict some residents of Crompston Trace, off Silk Cotton Trace, Bon Accord. They occupy part of Zone D, which falls within lands identified for acquisition by the State for the $1.2 billion airport expansion project.

One affected resident, Terrell Percy, whose family had their belongings removed from the house and put on the side of the road, said their electricity supply was also cut.

Saying the family was using a generator in the meantime, he added they are still waiting for T&TEC to restore power at their home.

Last Friday, the Judiciary said no injunction or stay of the proceedings was granted by the court in relation to the families affected by the expansion of the airport.

It said as a result of hearings to occur in the court on Monday and Tuesday, the Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries gave an understanding through the Attorney General of TT not to issue a warrant of possession against the occupiers of the land. That undertaking continues until August 26.

Augustine said after last Thursday’s attempted eviction, he saw letters given to the Percy family and another resident which offered to pay them over $400,000 and $500,000 respectively.

He regarded those sums as unacceptable.

“In the context of Tobago, that is not a lot of money to purchase land and rebuild, given that at this moment the average cost of a lot of land in Tobago is around the $300,000 mark.”

He added, “The point is, if we are asking people to give up their birthright – in fact, we are not asking, we are taking their birthright away from them – the very least we could do is provide a solution for them so they can move in the most humane manner.”

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. Photo by David Reid

Saying his administration had no qualms about the airport expansion project, Augustine accused the former PNM-led THA of not fulfilling its end of the bargain by having land at Shirvan and Cove estates fully prepared to accommodate the displaced residents.

“My predecessors said it and they did not quite fulfil it. “But we are going to fulfil it, which is, we are going to support the movement of the people. We are going to ensure that we provide spaces for them.”

Augustine said he has already discussed the issue with Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James.

He believes attempts must be made to provide avenues to help those affected to relocate speedily and satisfactorily.

“My predecessors promised and promised the people. A lot of the work is incomplete. Work at Cove stopped long before the December 2021 THA election.”

Augustine said in the absence of a smooth transition process, “We will just be taking away people’s birthright and just kicking them out in the wilderness. And I don’t think that is fair.

“People will argue what the law says, but no government will get my support in acting in that kind of draconian manner when it comes to people and people’s birthright. We have to do better than that.”

Augustine also said he still has some questions about the amount of acreage being taken for the project and whether it is really needed.