OPES, LLC explains that the development of two five-star resorts, each fitted with PGA- style golf courses and worth at least five (5) to eight (8) billion US dollars is being met with unexplainable silence by the Government of Jamaica who inserted itself with a promise to resettle many illegal squatters just before the start of a court ordered eviction in June 2018 in Little Bay and Brighton, Westmoreland, Jamaica.
Known for its breath-taking sunsets, ocean views, white sand beaches, and fishing; both Little Bay and Brighton in Westmoreland serve as an ideal tourism hotspot for the development of not one, but two ultra-luxurious five-star resorts that United States based investors are prepared to launch. Such developments will encourage other investors to pour into Jamaica’s tourism industry, thus providing countless job opportunities for the people of Jamaica; however, the government does not seem to see it this way.
Despite the 2011 court decision granting writs of possession and the eviction of at least 37 squatters, the legal owner along with prospective investors are still struggling to have the squatters removed from the 867-acre property.
The illegal squatters are not only regular board and zinc type. Among them are foreign affluent opportunists, who have occupied the property since the owner purchased it from the former landowner, offering various tourism products including, guest houses, villas, bars/restaurants, and multimillion-dollar complexes.
According to the land owner’s legal representative –attorney Alimi Banjoko and the OPES, LLC, an investment company- the illegal occupation has prevented both access and development.
“The issue here is not the price of the land. The issue is the removal of the squatters so that the land can be developed. It’s been marketed to be developed, and there is interest in the land [by not just persons wishing to develop it] to Caribbean five-star standard but also by ultra-luxury developers of some of the most luxurious properties in the United States. The type of project we envision here is approximately US$8 billion. The plan is to create these ultra-luxurious properties that will further attract the rich and famous to the area which has the most beautiful sunsets in the world. As mentioned before, this development will, without a doubt, significantly contribute to the Jamaican Economy.” – OPES, LLC.
Karl Samuda, then Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation, (MEJIC) intervened in June 2018, indicating that the squatters would be resettled. Since then, several meetings have been held and timetables scheduled; the last meeting was held in April 2021 with Minister Charles Jr., Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change when Minister Charles Jr. promised a swift and decisive response and follow up.
Neither attorney Alimi Banjoko nor OPES, LLC have been updated on the matter since the April 2021 meeting with Minister Charles Jr, leaving them clueless as to what the government’s next move will be regarding the removal of the squatters and moving forward with the development plans.
According to attorney Banjoko, the Ministry of Economic Growth & Job Creation has already conducted most, if not all, of the necessary site, geological, and socio-economic surveys; and has since then expressed interest in acquiring fifty (50) of the eight hundred and sixty-seven (867) acres. However, the size was reduced to twenty (20) acres towards the eastern portion of the property. Based on the discussions, it is believed that the government owned lands that adjoin the property would be used in part to settle the squatters.
Both attorney Banjoko and OPES, LLC strongly believe that the government must make every effort to prevent the squatter issue from becoming a political football kicked around by promises that are likely to embolden the squatters. Put another way, the government ought to become more active in the process in light of the gigantic economic gains that are likely to flow from the proposed tourism projects.
Banjoko went on to mention one element of several common law solutions to the issue. He pointed to Justice Ingrid Mangatal’s 2011 ruling, which suggested that lawmakers re-examine the law relating to adverse possession, which gives squatters the right to claim legal ownership of private lands they occupy for 12 years or more and 60 years in the case of government property.
Citing the law of adverse possession, Justice Mangatal pointed to the ruling by British jurist Lord Bingham of Cornhill, who noted that “as a result of the registered owner’s inaction, [the] adverse possessors enjoyed the full use of the land without payment for 12 years”.
Justice Ingrid Mangatal expressed the view that, where the land is registered, squatters should be forced to pay compensation to the owner for the time that they have illegally occupied the land. She took note of the many problems experienced and expenses incurred by the landowner to reclaim his property.
Historically, squatter communities have supported either of the island’s two main political parties, and their representatives have been accused of turning a blind eye to the problem.
Citing the general principle of the rule of law and the direct provision of the Jamaican Constitution to uphold and protect the rights of private ownership of land, both attorney Banjoko and OPES, LLC believes that the government must be part of the solution whether by fast-forwarding the resettlement initiative or readily assist the owner to reclaim the property from the squatters.
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No News View 360 journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.