Minister of Housing and Lands Denis Kellman today dismissed a suggestion made by residents of White Hill, St Andrew that an announcement made by Government this week on the future of the ill-fated community was nothing more than “an election gimmick”.
“First thing, I don’t deal with election gimmicks when it comes to people’s lives,” said Kellman in response to the charge made yesterday in response to Wednesday’s announcement by the Freundel Stuart administration that it was planning to end all housing settlement in White Hill, three years after the main road leading to the rural district was officially condemned and the community virtually cut off from the rest of the island.
The announcement came in a press release issued by the Barbados Government Information Service in which the housing ministry said the next phase of the relocations, which began in 1999, would involve transfer of 22 houses to Farmers, St Thomas, with five new houses due to be constructed this financial year and another seven in 2018.
However, with the next general election constitutionally due within the next seven months, residents yesterday questioned the sudden urge by Government to come to their rescue.
“We might be abandoned, but we aren’t stupid. Why all of this time pass? It took them about three years to tell us about relocation. These are bare promises for election [and] we all know that,” said community spokeswoman Carlitha Andrews, while calling on Kellman to put his money where his mouth is.
In response, the Minister of Housing assured Barbados TODAY this afternoon that work had already started on the resettlement project, adding that “by next year, we should be finished that phase that we put out the press release on”.
Kellman however expressed surprise over the reaction of some residents, while assuring that the Freundel Stuart administration was doing all in its power to address their plight.
“I find it rather shocking that something so easy to understand, somebody would call it a gimmick. We are actually dealing with the issue, so . . . I’m surprised at a comment like that. We are working on the project and soon will complete it,” he said, while taking issue with comments made by the residents to the media.
“You cannot be on air complaining that you want to move, and as soon as we put something into action, you are saying, ‘it’s a gimmick, and you don’t want to move’,” contended Kellman, while further assuring that he had been to area twice, after residents questioned reports that he had actually visited White Hill.
“I went to that area twice, about a year ago. We went to the area. That is how we identified and planned [so] when they said I didn’t go to the area, that is not true,” he told Barbados TODAY.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament for St Andrew George Payne has accused the ruling Democratic Labour Party of playing “Russian roulette” with the lives of his constituents.
“I think it is sheer hypocrisy on the Government’s part to expect that the people of White Hill will be fooled into believing that what they did not do in three years, they will be able to do three months before the general election,” Payne said, in support of the position taken by the residents.
“They have done nothing, and coming at this last minute, recognizing that there is an election, White Hill people are not going to be easy to fool,” Payne warned.
He also repeated an earlier suggestion that if Government was really interested in coming to the rescue of the community, it would not have allowed lands at Lancaster, which were originally earmarked for the residents of White Hill, to go to Chefette Restaurants.
“If the Government is serious, they had land at Lancaster, St James, but they were not interested in allocating that land to the residents of White Hill.
“It was land that was acquired for poor people. They have taken that land and sold it to commercial interests,” he complained, while insisting that “my constituents are being victimized, and it is not a question of relocation.
“You have to look at the cost of moving so many people. You are talking about millions of dollars and they [Government] have not put anything in place.
“What they have done is neglect and ignore the sufferation of those people. It is hurtful to see how Government is treating people in the area of White Hill,” he told Barbados TODAY.