We are indeed pleased to see that the new Government is addressing the issue of squatting frontally, and from all indications, a holistic approach is being taken on the matter.
Already, we have seen teams from the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) visiting and engaging in discussions with residents of squatting areas.
Squatting areas across the country have not been given the kind of attention they deserve over the years, and residents 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 two new ministers have shown that they are cognisant of the issues affecting residents, and are willing to work with them to ensure that proper systems are put in place to cater for their relocation and resettlement.
Visits to these squatting areas are important, as they would allow for the CH&PA officials to get a clear understanding of the present situation and the kind of intervention that is needed to ensure the lives of residents are not negatively affected.
This consultative approach to designing and implementing Government policy is necessary, and we are optimistic that, in the end, all the stakeholders involved would be satisfied. The Government, in the coming days, would be expected to roll out a relocation and resettlement policy, in consultation with those who stand to be affected.
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 with 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.
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.