Eccles-to-Great Diamond Road Project: Refusal by squatters to move is part of Opposition’s ‘wicked’ attempts to stymie progress – Croal
Refusal of Mocha squatters to relocate in order to facilitate development of the Eccles-to-Great Diamond Highway, and their subsequent demands for hundreds of millions of dollars from Government have been labelled as ‘mischievous’ and ‘wicked’ by Housing and Water Minister Collin Croal.
During a programme broadcasted on Wednesday, the Minister shared that these tactics, supported by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), were intended to stymie developmental works being carried out by Government.
“The disruption that you see now is merely to disrupt Government’s programme. It’s wicked, mischievous, and we see it is being orchestrated and led by the Opposition elements. They’re trying to stymie the efforts of this PPP/C Government to bring development to our people and bring a better livelihood to our people,” Croal explained.
Twenty-eight of the original number of 35 squatters have already been relocated from the path of the highway, and have rebuilt new homes in nearby residential areas through Government compensation. However, the seven that refused to remove have resorted to attempting to extract compensation from Government, including cash that is several times the value of the property they are illegally occupying, with individual demands reaching $100 million. In totality, the squatters are demanding over $590M for properties valued at just $56.5M.
“Some of these persons are asking for ridiculous compensation. The compensation that was provided is based on infrastructure that exists. One person is asking for $100 million, and their valuation is just $7.5 million,” Croal has disclosed.
Croal has contended that Government reserves have always been set aside for developmental works and expansion, and it is illegal to occupy such lands.
“In all PPP/C Governments, the foresight has always been there for us to look at expansion, growth, and planning. Reserves are already kept in part of our design for expansion as well as access, that is why it was easy for us to use that alignment…It was never owned by anyone else but the State,” he also shared.
Consultations with squatters
With accusations being hurled about lack of engagement, Croal pointed out that, since September 2021, he had led consultations with the illegal occupants. Those persons were cautioned that they were squatting along the alignment, and 20 lots at Herstelling and another 14 at Farm were subsequently made available for them to relocate. Some 28 persons who were squatting on reserves have already been relocated from the path of the highway, and have rebuilt new homes in nearby residential areas through Government compensation.
However, the Ministry has disclosed that while it stands ready to make available move-in-ready, single-flat, two-bedroom housing units in the Little Diamond Housing Scheme for these seven non-compliant persons, these efforts have been met with harsh and irrational resistance.
“Persons who relocated are happy in the new environment which they occupy. They’re relocated very nearby. It is right within the Herstelling-Farm community. The school is right there. So, we must call a spade a spade,” he said.
“Over the last two months, we have published repeatedly in the dailies what we have done to date. We had published a final call for those persons to come in and engage us, because they keep saying that no one is engaging them, but how is it the others were dealt with?” the Housing Minister has questioned.
Meanwhile, Minister within the Housing and Water Ministry, Susan Rodrigues, has fired back at the Opposition’s race-baiting tactics over the situation between the Government and squatters at Mocha, East Bank Demerara (EBD) who have demanded exorbitant compensation for their removal.
During her weekly social media programme aired on Wednesday evening, Rodrigues called out the Opposition for exploiting the situation for “political gain”, while noting that the party’s behaviour “is absolutely sickening to watch”. She has also described the compensation packages being offered to the seven squatters as a “golden opportunity”.
“It is very, very unfortunate that we now have to take this step [demolition exercise]. And it has become a necessary step, a step that we never wanted to take. That is why we have spent all of this time trying to negotiate with the people…to come to an amicable solution…” said Minister Rodrigues.
Instead of removing from there to facilitate the major road project, she said, the illegal settlers are making “irrational, outrageous and exorbitant” demands from the Government. One of these squatters, whose property is valued at $5.5M, is demanding $150M along with farmlands.
According to Minister Rodrigues, members of the Opposition, including its Leader Aubrey Norton, are manipulating and exploiting this situation for political gain.
She stressed: “It is absolutely sickening to watch. To see members of the Opposition running into Mocha and calling this Government racist, and saying that we are discriminating against the people in Mocha because they are Afro-Guyanese. The allegation that our Government has taken any action, or made any decision, or implemented any programme that is racist in nature is absolutely false. I reject that outright, and I condemn those statements,” noted the Minister.
What is “amazing”, she pointed out, is that the Opposition, while in Government for five years, two of which were illegally and unconstitutionally, “never spent a cent to improve the lives of the squatters in there, or to do any developmental projects in Mocha”. She alluded to the Government entering into negotiations with other illegal settlers, who have peacefully relocated, having recognised that development comes with a price.
“With development sometimes comes inconvenience, but you have a Government that cares. We would not act in a rash manner, and we would not make any decisions that would not be in the best interest of people, especially poor people. Our mandate is to ensure that people have affordable housing,” she has said.