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.
The new Ministers of Housing and a team from the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) on Thursday visited and engaged with residents of squatting areas in Sophia and Durban Backlands, Georgetown.
These areas, like many others across the country, have not been given the kind of attention they deserve over the years, and residents were left to do as they wish. In many of these areas lawlessness abounds, and if urgent action is not taken, the situation would become worse.
The ministers, mere days after being appointed, have shown that they are concerned about the issue of squatting, and the impact it has on families and the country as a whole. They have taken the right approach, and have outlined the Government’s position very clearly.
While making it clear that the Government has zero tolerance for squatting, they 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.
The ministers’ visit was important, as it would allow them 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. They have stated that their approach to resolving the issue would be a comprehensive and inclusive one, and have pledged to continue working with residents to relocate where necessary, and regularise where possible.
This consultative approach to designing and implementing Government policy is necessary, and we are optimistic that, in the end, all the stakeholders involved will 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 given the full resistance of citizens.
The new Ministers of Housing and Water have started on the right track. It is our hope that the issue of squatting will be placed on top of the agenda of the Ministry. 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.