Right at this moment, people have decided to squat on lands as they desperately try to get a piece for building a house. Sophia-Cummingsburg is the most prominent area. But persons in several places around the country have decided to do the same, taking matters in their own hands, demanding the Government provide them with house lots. The David Granger-led APNU/AFC had made house-lot distribution to all Guyanese who need house lots a promise during the 2015 election, this being a prominent manifesto promise.
Five years after, so many Guyanese, mostly APNU/AFC supporters, have resorted to squatting in their demand for house lots and, with elections thirty-four days away, declaring “no house lots, no vote”, eloquently exposes the betrayal. APNU/AFC has dismally failed to deliver on its promise that every Guyanese in need of a house lot will be able to get it. In fact, it is a total disgrace.
The persons who have resorted to this illegal method are highlighting a genuine problem. Of the many PPP/C successes in Government, one of the most significant successes was the development and distribution of house lots. More than 120,000 house lots were distributed and almost 100,000 homes were built during those terms in government.
A great part of that success story happened during Bharrat Jagdeo’s terms as President and Irfaan Ali’s terms as Minister of Housing. The sprawling communities of Diamond, Eccles, Mon Repos, Parfaite Harmonie, Tuschen, Charity New Housing Scheme, Reliance and Henrietta Housing Schemes, Glossow, Hope, Waterloo, Foulis, Amelia Wards, and many, many others are testimony to these new house lots that were developed and that allowed many working-class Guyanese to have the pride of their own homes.
Many Guyanese who had become squatters during the PNC years in Government, pre-1992, for the first time owned their lands after 1992 when the PPP regularised those lands and provided titles. These included the largest residential squatting area in Caricom – Sophia. In the case of Cow Dam, another large squatting community, most persons could not get titles, even though the PPP government approved titles. The reason is that a PNC-backed cooperative obtained a court injunction, claiming the land was given to them by the PNC Government prior to 1992. This is even as the cooperative has less than a handful of members.
Just as distribution and building of homes represented a big success story of the PPP, so does this represent one of the biggest failures of the APNU/AFC/PNC Government. In five years, they barely can identify a handful of houses lots given out. Most of these are to themselves. Few or no working-class Guyanese benefitted from a house lot in the last five years. A few core homes were developed, but the price for these are beyond most working-class citizens and the quality has been seriously questioned. The result is that most of them have had no takers.
During the PPP’s time in office, as much as the then Government was aggressive in developing house lots and housing schemes, the then PNC and the new iteration of that party, APNU/AFC, tried to block development. They tried legal action to block the $4B that Parliament approved for Irfaan Ai’s Ministry of Housing to purchase land from GuySuCo[KM1] to develop thousands of house lots.
When the PPP offered house lots and offered to help move persons from Tiger Bay, the then PNC tried to get the residents of Tiger Bay to reject the programme. In fact, on the advice from PNC leaders, some of the residents in Tiger Bay took the house lots and the financial support, but never moved from the illegal occupation in Tiger Bay. The party that had disgraced itself by institutionalising squatting had further added to its reputation and its credentials as a party that embraced squatting as a solution to housing.
In fact, because of its promise to ensure all persons in need would get house lots if it won the 2015 elections, soon after the elections’ results were announced, people took to marking off house lots in many parts of the country.
The then President Granger announced that squatting would not be permitted and promised again that these persons would have house lots, but they needed to first remove themselves from the land. Five years have gone, the promise remains unfulfilled. Worse, not only was the promise never fulfilled, but APNU/AFC literally closed the housing ministry and never made any serious effort to develop even a single new house lot.
Again, they are on the campaign, this time for the 2020 elections, and again bold housing promises are being made. But the party that institutionalised squatting pre-1992 and which failed the last five years to develop any new housing scheme is having a horrid time convincing its own supporters that they will deliver on this promise should they get back into Government. Many of the same people who occupied land just after the 2015 elections and who gave David Granger and APNU/AFC the benefit of the doubt, are people who have decided to squat again with the demand “no land, no vote”. Why should they believe the very people who have betrayed them again and again?