Features — 01 July 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
BGYEA and GOB to court over Harmonyville Buffer Zone

Case has been adjourned until July 28

The case concerning authorization for the use of the buffer zone at Mile 41 between the Harmonyville Community and the George Price Highway was heard at the Supreme Court in Belize City today, and by all indications, there will be a long, drawn-out court battle before we know whether the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) will be able to carry out their proposed corn cultivation venture on the road reserve.

After the project was initially struck down by a court injunction from the Government of Belize (GOB) blocking any such activities in the area, the representatives of BGYEA, accompanied by their attorney, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, showed up for the first hearing of a lawsuit which was initiated by GOB, which is accusing BGYEA of trespassing in the buffer zone, which, according to GOB, is regarded as Crown Lands.

We spoke with Matura-Shepherd after the case was adjourned, and she explained what she presented to the court on behalf of her clients today.

Matura detailed, “This is treated as a first hearing because it’s a fixed date claim form. What that means is that we came for the court to decide how far we are – did we get served with the documents, have we acknowledged the service of the documents, and have we entered a defense, so that the court would know how to proceed in terms of deadlines and timelines. So, basically it’s like an administrative aspect where the judge found out how far we are in terms of responding to the claim against BGYEA and setting a new court date, which has been set for July 28th at 10:00 a.m.”

BGYEA’s attorney also told the media about the presentations that GOB has made so far.

“The government has sought three main things – a declaration that they are the owner of the land that they call the buffer zone, a declaration that my clients don’t have a right to be on the said land, and also they are building a case of trespass, saying that Mr. Petillo and Mr. Sam Patton trespassed on the land. The irony of it is that they are saying that Mr. Petillo’s trespass is through BGYEA, and BGYEA is an association which, in law, has its own provisions whether they can be sued, and so it will be interesting to see what their legal argument will be. That is what the Government is seeking. Our part is to show that those declarations that the Government are seeking are not right, that they should not be granted, and also to dispute the issue of the trespass”, she stated.

Matura-Shepherd mentioned that she doesn’t believe that the case will conclude soon, especially because the court goes on recess in August, and the next court date, after July, will most likely not be until this September.

She also asserted that her clients lawfully acquired and paid for the survey of that entire portion of land which came to be known as Harmonyville, and cited that they (BGYEA) need to see what evidence the Government has to provide to show that BGYEA is not entitled to use the buffer zone for corn planting, and what evidence will GOB show to prove that they (GOB) maintain jurisdiction over the Harmonyville buffer zone.

“What we are looking at is what will be our claim against government as well, because they are bringing a case against BGYEA, but they are also making their own assertions, [therefore], we are at that part where we are discussing how do we proceed”, Matura Shepherd told us.

BGYEA president, Nigel Petillo, who outlined that he was being sought by police in relation to the recent injunction which was initiated by GOB, maintained that his organization believes that the land could be utilized for the betterment of the entire Harmonyville community, but since the issue is before the courts, they (BGYEA) want to do it the right way and they intend to take the right steps with the guidance of their attorney.

Petillo insisted that the idea of corn cultivation in the buffer zone is aimed at generating funds to build roads for the community because GOB has continuously frowned upon requests to support BGYEA’s infrastructural initiatives, but nevertheless, he is confident that his organization will triumph.

“I feel confident about this, and I believe that when all this is over and done with, and we get the rightful possession of that land, then we will able to plant as much corn as we want. That’s what the situation is here. They are fighting us because we are thinking of doing for self”, stressed Petillo.

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