On Monday night, PlusNews aired an exclusive story on the Water Board situation in the village of Silkgrass in the Stann Creek District. Villagers complained that the Water board was going rogue; with no meetings, no reports on financials, and only answerable to the UDP caretaker, Melvin Hulse.
But that is not the only problem residents of the small community are having; there is another board; a Lands Committee, independent from the Village Council, but again empowered and answerable to the UDP Caretaker. In January of 2008, 161 lots were surveyed and distributed to Silkgrass villagers but almost 7 years later, most villagers are unable to make any payment on their 7 year lease, and are fearing the worse.
We spoke with Area Representative Rodwell Furgeson who initiated the land distribution in 2008.
Villagers anxious for a parcel of land to build their homes are now left holding the bag. Current Village Council Chairman, Solomon Andrews, says that from he came into office he has been lobbying Government on behalf of the disenfranchised villagers, but to no avail. To complicate the issue, while some villagers are being told they are not in the system, others are getting their titles processed. This allegedly includes some favored villagers who never were in the initial distribution.
While the lease holders of Silkgrass have been given various excuses as they scramble to try and pay their lease obligations before the 7 years are up, The Ministry of Natural resources, which was responsible to authenticate the area in the first place, issued a press release two weeks ago on August 12, 2014. That’s almost seven years after the land was distributed, and only a few months before the leases are up. They speak of only 120 lots; that’s 42 lots less. The Press release stated;”In order to rectify and regularize the survey and consequently the lease hold interests, the Honourable Minister will seek Cabinet’s approval for funding to cover the cost for re-surveying, preparing, and authenticating the survey plans for the lands in the Silk Grass area.” In other words, start the process all over. Area Representative Rodwell Ferguson told PlusNews last night that he has since been promised that redoing the entire process will not be necessary. But no promised timeline has since been adhered to.
We caught up with the Past Chairman of Silk Grass who distributed the land with Government’s full backing in January of 2008. Pedro Pixabaj can hardly believe that seven years later, the recipients of the lots are still having major problems.
The Village Council Act is very specific regarding the selection of a land committee, whose job it is to oversee distribution of land within the village boundaries.
The Committee is to be lawfully comprised of 7 members; the members can be the Village Council itself or the Chairman can select 7 people to represent them.
Distribution by a caretaker, and sanctioned by a Committee not selected by the Council; sounds like a recipe, if a future government chooses to be vindictive and apply the letter of the law, to have the game of denying Belizeans a piece of Silkgrass start all over again.