THIS LAND IS MY LAND
Ten years ago my secondary school lost my transcript. My records, along with my older brother’s, had vanished. We attended the same school. After endless correspondence with secretaries, teachers and our school principal, who blamed the disappearance on locked files, theft, and on the few months my brother and I spent at an overseas high school, I decided to take the matter to the education ministry. It had been years since we’d left school; still I held on to the hope that some authority in Saint Lucia would be held accountable. There was no record of our accomplishments in secondary school; no detail about the classes we took, when we took them, and the grades received in each class. It was as if we’d never been to the school!
After an undertaking by the chief education officer to look into the case, the matter seemed forgotten, at least on the part of the ministry. I called the office of the CEO several times and, on one occasion, his secretary informed me he was in office but was unable to take my call. “Keep calling,” she advised, “he might answer eventually.”
The next day I forwarded the entire email chain to the island’s minister of education, Gale Rigobert. She responded promptly and in her email copied several people I assumed worked at the ministry, with words to the effect that she hoped the matter would be resolved in the coming days. About a week later I was summoned to the ministry to receive my transcript. Alas, all I was handed were my CXC results that I’d received eons before. At that point I wondered if I’d wasted my time sending out email correspondence detailing why in the first place I was seeking the ministry’s intervention. Didn’t anyone read my emails? Surely, the ministry’s officials, particularly the chief education officer, had to know the difference between secondary school transcripts and CXC results.
In any event, school transcripts not so far from my mind, this week I found myself face to face with a woman I’d met years earlier. Her name is Mary Raymond. She had dropped by the STAR with her grown-up son and granddaughter to provide an update on a situation I knew had been going on for years. I’d a taken a trip to her home in Deglos, Bexon years ago to report on the story that revolved around a land dispute that had escalated violently. Despite claims that she was the rightful owner of a significant portion of land, and having the evidence to that effect, she had been at the end of a seemingly losing battle against a reputable company that now laid claim to land that, according to Raymond, it had never paid for.
Things had taken a turn for the worse since we’d last spoken, and she reported more confrontations with other involved parties, most recently with people who had started vending on the land she had used to sustain her for years.
“I have my property since my mother died in 1984,” the 60-year-old woman said, her frustrations etched into her furrowed brows. “No lawyer has been willing to give me any advice to solve the problem in all the time I’ve been going through this. I’m giving them my money, they’re taking my money, I tell them right away that the company has not made the payment to me, and they never do anything about it. They’ve never paid me for that land.”
I recalled visiting the humble dwellings of Mary and her family and, as we sat in the
STAR lobby, she shared that her family had yet to find peace in the matter that affected their daily lives. Just this week she again found herself at a local police station attempting to make a report on another life-threatening incident; the first had involved her son being held at gunpoint. The officer at the station had refused to make a report. He did not want to get involved, he told her. There was nothing he could do to help.
“He told us he’s not putting himself in that,” Mary said. “This lady has been on my land selling for over a year. The other day she pulled a cutlass on my son. I went to the company and they told me it’s their land, let the lady eat a bread. How can it be their land when they have not paid me?”
With their lives under threat, and the property ownership still in question, the Raymonds are now seeking assistance from Legal Aid. They expect soon to hear more about the matter. Hopefully their unwilting perseverance will finally bear fruit.