MINISTER with responsibility for Housing, Annette Ferguson, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Central housing and Planning Authority (CHPA), Lelon Saul, on Monday, appealed to persons to desist from illegally occupying lands, as they address the land-grabbing situation that developed over the past weekend in the Cummings Lodge area.
Over the weekend, scores of persons flocked to that area, some are said to have begun clearing sections of land where they planned to squat, with some of the persons having turned up based on misinformation being spread that the CHPA was giving away the lands.
The CHPA has since set up a temporary station in the community, to help persons make legitimate housing applications. Some of the persons threatened not to vote at the upcoming March 2 elections unless they were given a land by that time. Some claimed they had nowhere to go.
Noting that the situation appears fueled by the elections season, Saul urged citizens to resist being baited, while speaking at a press conference held by the CHPA on Monday morning to address the issue. “Those people who are there, I am certain that they are living somewhere, they just did not wake up last night and recognize that they are homeless and going out there to squat. And we will deal with it. I don’t think that there is an active occupation. Squatting means an active occupation, what is going on is land grabbing; that is what is going on there,” Saul said,
Many of the persons are not said to come from the area but travelled from as far as the East and West Coast of Demerara.
“Historically, when we come around this time, this same season, it is usual for you to find such activity. I want to appeal to citizens, do not listen to persons who will misguide you and encourage you to occupy state lands because its elections time and therefore no one will move you. Please do not occupy lands illegally. It is a criminal offence,” Saul emphasized.
Some of the persons were adamant of being entitled to a house lot, notwithstanding being only recent housing applicants, with at least one person reported as only having applied in 2019 for a house lot.
After receiving information that persons had begun squatting in the area, Minister Ferguson and Saul, last Friday, visited the area. Saul said on that visit, very few persons were observed; those present were engaged in applying to the CHPA for legitimate lands.
“When we were out there on Friday, there were less than 20 persons that we engaged. We were outside there and we requested citizens not to squat. So from Friday to Sunday, news went wild west. Lo and behold, this weekend a large amount of persons turn up at Cummings Lodge and Industry area and continue the illegal occupation of land. I trust that the public, now being informed, that they will desist from doing so,” Saul said.
Some of the persons turned up at the area as a result of a rumor, spread from an uncertain source, that land was being given away in the area.
“I received a call from a woman who said that she was told that the CHPA was allocating lands in the Cummings Lodge area, bring $100,000 and you will be given an allocation. She said someone called her from the Sophia area to say that the CHPA is distributing lands. What she did is call me to verify if that is so, and I told her that the CHPA is not allocating,” Ferguson explained.
Ferguson noted up to Monday morning, that it was not yet determined if any of the misinformed persons had paid over any money to anyone.
“It is upsetting to see and to hear what is happening out at the Cummings Lodge area. Whoever might have been pushing this, I want to discourage them from doing so. It is not going to do the agency nor the squatters any good,” Ferguson explained, adding that:
“We understand that the needs of our people is to be properly housed, but it must be done in a systematic and structured way. His Excellency [President David Granger] has made it clear he does not want to see squatting, slums, shanties, and the CHPA, we are working with agencies such as NICIL, Lands and surveys, Guysuco, seeking lands so our people can get lands.”
Both Ferguson and Saul emphasized that the lands are already allocated, as such there is no land owned by the CHPA, to be able to give away in that area.
“I want to make it clear that those lands were distributed by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic sometime in 2015, just before the elections. The then administration did not follow the necessary guidelines to acquire the lands. When this government came into office, we were able to engage both NICIL and Lands and Surveys to have the requisite procedure followed so that the lands were actually handed over [to] the CHPA of which the agency paid for those lands. We have begun the necessary infrastructure work so that persons can now move on to the land,”
Saul further noted that some of the land that the persons were trying to illegally occupy is not even owned by the CHPA, and more so some has been reserved for infrastructural development. Some of the lands are owned by the Guyana Lands and Surveys and National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL). “Those lands were earmarked for development. The current squatting has implications for future infrastructure development as it relates to the southern bypass. That is a critical round link that will lead from Ogle to Timehri,” Saul noted, further clarifying that:
“There is no lands at Cummings lodge to give, at least CHPA does not have land at Cummings Lodge for any first-time applicant because those lands were allocated in 2015 and the agency had an obligation to ensure that those persons who paid for those lands that they receive the lands. The exercise was not meant to address other persons outside of the 20 that we met on Friday.”