Home Letters Electorate should vote for party with track record of providing shelter for...
According to an article titled “No land, no vote – Squatters take up lands in Cummings Lodge/Sophia” published by News Room on January 27, 2020, twenty persons began squatting behind Eugene F Correia International Airport last week, and the number has grown significantly since. It is certainly not the first time citizens have decided to occupy lands without permission. The most recent surge in the squatting phenomenon occurred soon after 2015 elections when citizens descended on several communities across the country and attempted to occupy lands illegally (see, for instance, “President believes land grabbing issue was orchestrated,” INews, May 21, 2015).
Squatting, however, predated these incidents and was widespread before 1992 because the PNC attempted to provide shelter to Guyanese without any housing policy or programme. Indeed, there were 120 squatter settlements when the PPP/C assumed office in 1992 and Sophia was the largest. Under the regularisation programme, however, the PPP/C transformed the squatter settlement into a housing scheme.
To a large extent, the practice of squatting was blunted because of the housing programme of the PPP/C Government. During its tenure, the PPP/C Government distributed approximately 112,761 house lots, of which 80 per cent of the beneficiaries were low-income families. Between 2000 and 2010, low-income families would have benefitted from wealth transfers in the form of land and infrastructure subsidies that approximated to $23 billion.
Faced with a variety of challenges, including increasing demand for house lots and low occupation rates, the PPP/C implemented a raft of initiatives such as Core House, Home Improvement, Hinterland Project, and Young Professional Scheme. In line with its objective of promoting Sustainable Development, the Government also focused on developing industrial and commercial zones in new settlement areas during the last six years in office. These new initiatives benefitted over 2000 households and were estimated to provide beneficiaries with approximately $1.5 billion in the form of direct subsidies.
Notwithstanding its success in the area of housing, the demand for house lots outstripped supply, and this prompted the PPP/C Government to focus on the East Bank-East Coast Road Linkage Project and start work on Silica City. These projects would have started and 50,000 households would have benefitted from house lots upon their completion if the PPP/C was returned to office in 2015. However, in its wisdom, the APNU/AFC abandoned Silica City completely and stalled the road project. The result is the denial of 50,000 families of the opportunity to own their home and encouragement of squatting in Sophia, an area that the PNC once shamelessly ran squatters off.
If the electorate had made the correct decision in 2015, we would not be in this situation today. However, we have another opportunity in a few weeks to correct this mistake by voting out the APNU/AFC, who failed to provide poor households with housing opportunities while simultaneously granting large land parcels to a small elite group. Instead of demanding that the APNU/AFC provides house lots, the electorate should vote for the party with the track record of providing shelter for all.