Highlights — 13 June 2014 — by Kareem Clarke

The corn cultivation project on a road reserve is simply not going to happen, says PM

A previously rejected agricultural proposal put together by the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA), which eventually sparked a spirited citizen’s rally in Belize City’s Battlefield Park last Saturday, is not going to be revisited anytime soon – Prime Minister Dean Barrow has again given the “thumbs down” on the grassroots project.

BGYEA wants to plant corn along 29 acres of the Harmonyville’s Buffer Zone at Mile 41 on the George Price Highway; however, at his Prime Ministerial press conference today, PM Barrow confirmed that he and the Government of Belize (GOB) are sticking to their guns and certainly do not intend to entertain any sort of agricultural activity on the road reserve.

After censuring the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) for taking the issue out of context, Barrow maintained that by no means will any permission be granted for BGYEA to plant corn in the buffer.

He said, “I don’t understand how the NTUCB could be asking the government to give way in what in essence is an attempt to engage in an illegal activity. I don’t understand how the NTUCB can say this is about planting corn and an uncaring, cruel, mean government wanting to stop the people from planting corn. That is not the issue at all, all we are saying, is that you can’t plant corn on the road reserve for two obvious reasons: the road reserves are there for a purpose, and the road reserves belong to the Government and people [of Belize].”

Barrow also asserted that even though GOB has done its part to make lots available to the people of Harmonyville, they (GOB) are still coming under unjustifiable scrutiny.

“Why on earth is there no reference to the fact that it is 1,327.139 acres that exist at Harmonyville; about 1,040 leases have been issued by this Government to the Harmonyville collective. Everything has been given out to them; Government facilitated this by having the Lands Department meet on Saturdays, and all this was done on the backs of an acquisition of the property, of which Government and taxpayers had to pay $1,990,708.50 for – we did all that.,” he said.

Barrow went on to contend, “There were those who said to me at the time, ‘how can you reward criminality?’ I didn’t agree; I recognize then, as I recognize now, that there are problems in the Lands Department, and that while it can’t justify what took place in terms of the initial illegal squatting at Harmonyville, it perhaps explains it and I thought, let us regularize the situation; ultimately it is a small win for the small man/woman.

“But Lord man, we bought all this land, we made it available to you; we charged you a thousand dollars per acre for your title when everywhere else, even with respect to village lots – which are a quarter the size of that – people are paying $800.

“My point is that we subsidized even the purchase price of the acreage that they got. We warned this is an unplanned community and you would have to take your place in the queue with respect to infrastructure. Now you come and you don’t even seek to reach an understanding with Government; in fact, you ask Government to eject people that you say were squatting on the road reserve, and as soon as Government ejected them, you go and start to plant corn.

“And this is the cause that the NTUCB and the Rod of Correction are taking up? Well, ladies and gentlemen, our position is quite straightforward; we are not going to countenance illegality, lawless behavior; it simply is not going to happen. It is just that, Mister Harmonyville: you will not plant corn on the road reserve.”

Barrow explained that BGYEA’s members are free to plant any amount of corn anywhere and anytime they wish, but it cannot take place in the buffer zone.

BGYEA, for its part, has insisted that they have been seeking Government’s attention on the matter in order to develop the community, but those appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

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