Busi­ness­man frus­trated by decade-long wait for land com­pen­sa­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - McPherse Thomp­son As­sis­tant Ed­i­tor - Busi­ness mcpherse.thomp­son@glean­erjm.com

MORE THAN two years af­ter the of­fi­cial open­ing of the North­South High­way, and a decade since the Gov­ern­ment com­pul­so­rily ac­quired land at Moneague, St Ann as part of the project, busi­ness­man Mag­nus Mullings is still en­gaged in a strug­gle to get com­pen­sa­tion.

How­ever, the Na­tional Road Op­er­at­ing and Con­struc­tion Com­pany (NROCC) said the mat­ter is now be­fore the court be­cause there is dis­agree­ment about the level of com­pen­sa­tion be­ing of­fered.

A copy of a no­tice un­der The Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act pro­vided by Mullings’ at­tor­ney, Leon Palmer, shows that in 2008, then Prime Min­is­ter Bruce Gold­ing de­clared the ap­prox­i­mately 8,437 square me­tres of land at Phoenix Park as needed for the con­struc­tion of High­way 2000 Phase 1B.

Gold­ing noted that no agree­ment by pri­vate treaty for the pur­chase of the prop­erty had been ar­rived at and di­rected the com­mis­sioner of lands to take ur­gent pos­ses­sion of the land.

DAM­AGED AS­SETS

Mullings said that among his as­sets on the prop­erty were crops and pigs he was rear­ing, a num­ber of which died as a re­sult of the ac­tiv­i­ties un­der­taken in the con­struc­tion of the road, as well as the re­moval of a meat pro­cess­ing plant he was es­tab­lish­ing.

In ad­di­tion, he said that a sec­tion of the land which was ac­quired pre­vented him from en­ter­ing his house from the front en­trance. Mullings is also claim­ing for struc­tural dam­age to a pit which he said was dam­aged from blast­ing.

Palmer told the Fi­nan­cial Gleaner that he filed a law­suit in 2014 against NROCC, the com­mis­sioner of lands and the at­tor­ney gen­eral, on be­half of Mullings, and ex­pects the mat­ter to ei­ther pro­ceed to me­di­a­tion or le­gal case man­age­ment soon.

How­ever, he noted that “Mr Mullings is frus­trated” about the time it is tak­ing to set­tle the mat­ter.

He said NROCC has paid for some of the crops on the prop­erty, but has so far not com­pen­sated Mullings for the land ac­quired.

Mullings said that by about 2012, com­pen­sa­tion of­fered for the dam­age to his as­sets and the land was about $15 mil­lion. Palmer said they dis­pute that sum. In­stead it is ex­pected to be de­ter­mined by the court case.

“We didn’t sue for a spe­cific sum,” the lawyer said, not­ing that among other things they are claim­ing for struc­tural dam­age, crops and live­stock lost.

NROCC Manag­ing Di­rec­tor Ivan An­der­son told the Fi­nan­cial Gleaner that when the agency took pos­ses­sion of the lands in 2008, it paid Mullings for the crops which were im­pacted, as well as the costs as­so­ci­ated with the re­lo­ca­tion of pig pens on the site.

LANDOWNERSHIP

“At the time we took pos­ses­sion, Mr Mullings was not the owner of the prop­erty, and could not be paid for the lands. The prop­erty was part of an es­tate where the pre­vi­ous owner had died. This was the rea­son for the com­pul­sory ac­qui­si­tion,” he said.

“Once the pro­bate of the will of the de­ceased was com­pleted by Mr Mullings he pro­vided us with ev­i­dence that he was now au­tho­rised to do trans­ac­tions in re­la­tion to the land. At this point in 2010, Mr Mullings was of­fered pay­ment for the lands based on a val­u­a­tion car­ried out by an in­de­pen­dent val­u­a­tor. Mr Mullings re­jected the of­fer and the mat­ter was re­ferred to the court for a de­ci­sion to be made,” An­der­son said. “This is where the mat­ter is cur­rently,” he added.

An­der­son said NROCC re­sorts to com­pul­sory ac­qui­si­tion typ­i­cally for one of three rea­sons: where there is a ti­tle but the owner has died and there is no one legally able to act for the owner; there is no ti­tle for the prop­erty; or there is a ti­tle but no agree­ment as to the amount of the com­pen­sa­tion.

He said that of the more than 400 prop­er­ties ac­quired on the North-South High­way align­ment, “We have less than 10 prop­er­ties where the owner has dis­agreed with the com­pen­sa­tion of­fered and the mat­ter has been re­ferred to the courts for set­tle­ment.”

Ivan An­der­son, CEO of the Na­tional Road Op­er­at­ing and Con­struc­tion Com­pany.

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