ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Lands & Agriculture Minister Hilson Baptiste said a private high school, which his ministry last week ordered to vacate the land it’s been using as its playing field, hurt its chances of a solution by going public with its story.
Baptiste said the government is facing the threat of a lawsuit from private individuals who purchased the land and so government has no choice but to demand St Anthony’s Secondary school give up the area.
“I am pressuring them to move fast with this for me, because those people want to sue government. But while we’re doing this, they’ve gone to the media to make me look incompetent and to bring the entire ministry into disrepute,” Baptiste said.
“Right now, I’m not even in the mood to help them. The disrespect alone makes me very angry because I feel I am doing my best to help them … We sat down last Monday and came to an amicable settlement. They have to give the people back their lands and we will look for lands adjacent to where they are to give them,” he added.
Last week, Principal Joann Boulous-Calias said, without warning, they were told to remove the fence and all other sporting facilities, leaving their sporting calendar in disarray.
“It’s very disheartening, because you are trying to do something which is really positive and all of a sudden it’s being pulled from under you and I’m a little despondent at present, because I don’t know what to do and I don’t know where to turn,” Boulous-Calias said.
“When he (Baptiste) came on Monday, I felt like I had no leg to stand on because they kept referring to the document where they told us to move the fence … I didn’t feel in that meeting that I had any recourse,” she added.
The principal said the issue dates back to around 2009 when the school first tried to acquire the land.
“We went searching to find out who owned the land because if it was privately owned, we would have approached them to see if we could purchase the land,” Boulous-Calias said.
The principal said the school’s officials found out it was Crown land but when they requested to buy it, were told the government was not selling crown lands at the time.
“The Ministry of Agriculture told us we could have use of the land for nine months, which we found odd but we said let’s start there and see where it goes,” Boulous-Calias said.
The principal said after the nine months expired, they were informed they would have to remove their fence and that they had gone significantly over the agreed boundary.
She said they then sought an audience and met with Baptiste, when she heard, for the first time, the land was being sold.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)