Over the past weeks, the issue of squatters occupying lands at Success, East Coast Demerara belonging to Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has led to much discussion on the illegal occupation of Government lands. Not only have these persons refused to remove, but they have now further escalated the issue to a criminal act by shooting and damaging a drainage pump in the area.
Squatting areas across the country have not been given the kind of attention they deserve over the years by the previous APNU/AFC administration, and persons were left to do as they wished. In many of these areas lawlessness abounds, and if urgent action is not taken, the situation would become worse.
While making it clear that the Government has zero tolerance for squatting, the new Government have already shown that they are cognisant of the issues affecting squatters, and are willing to work with them to ensure that proper systems are put in place to cater for their relocation and resettlement.
Squatting on Government reserves and other lands belonging to the state has been, and continues to be, quite prevalent in Guyana. Even though several attempts were made to bring squatting under control, the authorities have faced a huge challenge in getting persons to comply. What we see today is that persons continue to occupy Government reserves and state lands, thereby preventing crucial maintenance and development works from taking place. For example, works such as clearing and cleaning of trenches and canals; expanding road networks/ streets; building bridges or kokers for proper drainage; or building infrastructure for water, electricity or telephone services are being hampered or severely delayed due to persons ‘not observing the boundary lines.’
As if that were not enough, when persons are warned or given notice to cease their illegal activities or remove from state lands, they quickly resort to the courts for redress, resulting in the Government putting ‘on hold’ crucial development projects that are meant to benefit everyone. Not only does this practice have a negative impact on development projects, it costs the state millions of dollars to dismantle and remove illegal structures, or to ensure that persons comply with the regulations.
While the Government must always strive to adopt a humanistic approach to this issue, it must not allow lawlessness to get to a point where it is uncontrollable, as is currently the case in many communities across the country. There are regulations in place in respect to squatting, but they are not adequately enforced. Even when the regulations are enforced, it is done in a manner that is confrontational, and hence the authorities are fully resisted by citizens.
Like with the Success, ECD squatters, a similar situation exists in Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) where, earlier this year, the regional administration reported a notable increase in squatter settlements. Like officials in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), those in Region 10 are seeking a collaborative effort with all relevant stakeholders to address the situation and to explore various alternative measures for these squatters.
As this publication had previously stated, while the Government must insist on using an approach that is consultative and inclusionary, it must also continue to make it pellucid that squatting will not be tolerated.
The fact that the squatters have damaged millions of dollars’ worth of GuySuCo’s varieties of sugarcane and have now damaged the company’s drainage pump shows that they are not interested in pursuing good-faith relations to bring a proper and amicable solution to the issue at Success, ECD. The Police must hold accountable those who have now descended into criminality to protect their illegal act of squatting.