Do not be used as “political tools, pawns” – Pres Ali urges Mocha/Cane View squatters
President Dr Irfaan Ali on Thursday called on those individuals who, backed by the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led Opposition, are refusing to relocate to facilitate the construction of a major highway to not be used as political pawns.
Initially, there were seven squatters at the Mocha/Cane View, East Bank Demerara (EBD) area who are in the path of the Eccles-to-Great Diamond Highway that is currently under construction. With the support of the Opposition, they have rejected Government’s compensation packages and are making outrageous demands.
However, by Thursday evening, after the Housing Ministry moved to demolish the illegal structures on the State reserves, four of those persons eventually accepted offers to relocate, which included new legally-owned houses and land along with farmlands for those farming.
But prior to this development, President Ali, in a live broadcast on his Facebook page, condemned the Opposition for its political opportunism and lack of responsible leadership. He contended that instead of leading persons towards a chance at a better and more secure life, the Opposition was using this issue as an opportunity to score political points.
“There is no political mileage or opportunism that can be extracted from this. I asked and I urge these families not to be used as political tools and pawns of a few who are only angry at the development of our country. All of Guyana, every reasonable person, can understand that what the Government has offered is above and beyond,” the Head of State noted.
Only on Tuesday, during a standoff between residents, with support from Opposition members, and demolition workers, Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton claimed that these persons were not in the path of the highway and that the Government was relocating them for ulterior motives.
According to Ali, these political leaders are not concerned about the benefits the construction of this highway will bring to not just residents in Mocha, whose home value and net worth will increase, but also to the community as a whole.
“We’re building the entire infrastructure out in Mocha that [the Opposition] neglected, passing a new four-lane highway through there that they neglected, increasing the value of lands in that area that they neglected. But in a politically-opportunistic manner, they find an occasion to arrive themselves in numbers as if they have any care and concern. A Government that has care and concern is a government that [would do] exactly what we did – moving illegality to legality, offering a better life, offering improved condition. The ball is in the court of those [three remaining] families,” he asserted.
In 2021, the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) engaged 35 families from Mocha/Cane View on their relocation to prepare for the four-lane road.
Extensive consultations were done to ensure the residents were relocated to developed housing schemes at Farm and Herstelling on the EBD, equipped with all the amenities that will lead to their enhanced livelihoods.
Already, some 28 persons have been resettled in a more cohesive, sustainable and safe community after signing their compensation agreements in December 2021.
To date, some $250 million has been expended as compensation to those 20 plus persons along with over $6 million compensation for crops. Additionally, lands, assistance and titles were made available to the residents free of cost.
Offer is still on table
President Ali pointed out on Thursday that despite these remaining persons being illegally on Government reserves, the offer was still there for them to take up.
“The Ministry has offered them to relocate in completed homes on legal land which they will have titles for, which will increase their net value, which they can take to the bank to have a loan – free of cost… This Government stands ready to welcome you and take you into your new homes and to remove you from the illegally-occupied reserve and to give you a better life. Choose wisely, think wisely and do not be used opportunistically…,” the Head of State implored the three remaining squatters.
They are: Junior Ellis, who had his property valued at $5.5 million but is demanding $150 million along with farmlands from Government; Anneita Beaton, who signed the settlement agreement with the Housing Ministry, but has not uplifted the cheque and is now asking for $45 million in addition to farmlands when her property was valued at $14.3 million; and Sheldon Eastman, whose property was valued at $3.4 million and he is demanding an additional $3.5 million to complete his house at Plantation Farm, EBD and $100 million as a final settlement. The Ministry had said it hired a contractor to carry out the remaining works on Eastman’s home.
Nevertheless, during an engagement with Private Sector stakeholders on Thursday evening, President Ali, further speaking on the issue, pointed out that the highway construction has been held up for some seven months.
According to the Head of State, this has not only hindered development but has affected the contractor – KP Thomas and Sons Development Inc. In fact, earlier on Thursday, in protest of the demolition exercise, persons set the contractor’s $49 million excavator, on fire.
But even in the face of the Opposition peddling claims of racism against the squatters, the President declared that Government could not be any softer on this issue.
“Not every single illegality and nonsense you see, you will cry race and ethnicity and believe you will roll over the Government… We are trained in this country to think in a particular way… and I intend to change that nonsense.
“When are we going to stop this nonsense and call out illegality when there is illegality… As a society and as a people, we have to develop the maturity to embrace what is right and reject what is wrong. It is the only way we can mature and take the country forward,” President Ali posited. (G3)