February month end is new deadline for removal
By Sharmain Cornette
The urgency of ridding the Lamaha embankment of squatters was re-emphasised yesterday when the Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn, and Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali, visited the area.
According to the ministers, the squatters will have to remove from the area before the end of next month, in order to allow the Guyana Power and Light Company to set up a new power line interconnecting system there.
“This is the only available area, and of course people cannot be here, because of safety and other concerns,” Minister Benn asserted.
He pointed out that, historically, the problems of environmental sanitation, social disruption and other issues with regards to squatting on the embankment have been gaining Government’s attention with a view to having such situations corrected.
Since last year, the residents were informed of the need for them to remove to facilitate the project, but to date only a few have complied. According to Minister Benn, there has been evidence that the squatters are not very eager to move.
He divulged that the Ministries of Housing and Public Works have been working in collaboration to have the residents relocate to Westminster, an area in Region Three where the squatters have been awarded permanent house lots.
And even though the need for relocation comes as part of the Housing Ministry’s effort to address the issue of squatting, Minister Ali established that Government has gone as far as offering the squatters a relocation package, a promise which has already been fulfilled.
“We have offered electricity and GWI connection free of costs, once they relocate. We have also given 50 per cent of the relocation cost, and they will get the other 50 per cent when they move. They also have the offer to have their children relocated to schools closest to them. This was agreed upon when the residents met with the President.
“From the Government side, we have fulfilled our responsibility, but we are concerned with the slow pace at which persons are moving,” Ali said.
He added that yesterday’s visit was intended to discuss with residents some of the issues they are facing in the relocation process, so as to ensure that they can move in an efficient, effective and timely manner.
According to Ali, regardless of their situations, all squatters will have to move with urgency, even as he added that, “We are working with a drop dead deadline, which is February 28, and so we want the relocation process to be completed long before then.”
But according to one resident, Frankie Singh, who has been squatting on the embankment for more than 30 years, while he is not objecting to the Government’s relocation call, the package which has been offered is not sufficient.
Singh disclosed that, as a poor man who depends mainly on the produce which is grown in his embankment yard, he cannot see how he will afford to rebuild his home in another location.
He also expressed some disappointment in the area that was selected for them to relocate.
“We have to move; we ain’t mind moving, we glad to get our own place, but I was over there and the place was flooded. If we fuh move in the flood, how can we build? How can we carry our family over there? They should see something better fuh we; we are not rich people here…”
Singh also revealed that transportation has not been afforded them, as was assured by the Government.
However, Minister Benn countered by saying that, even before the relocation arrangements were made, his ministry was already making trucks available to move people.
“Up to last week, our trucks came and moved out five families. That is my information. In fact, the complaint has been that people seem not to want to move fast enough and with any alacrity.”
According to the minister, during his short stint as Minister of Housing, in anticipation of Minister Ali’s appointment, he had visited the relocation area and had seen and spoken with the managers of the Central Housing and Planning Authority with respect to issues in the area.
“There was a period of heavy rainfall and water was on top of the land there, but this water could have been easily drained. The land basically needed clearing by those people who wanted to take up their house lots,” Minister Benn insisted.
Nonetheless, he revealed that his ministry is still prepared to work along with people in relation to their occupancy. He added that a machine was sent to the area about five weeks ago to help those persons who truly desire to work on their house lots, in order to relocate.
“It appears to me that there are some people here who are unwilling to move, and we cannot have a continued situation where the whole country will be held at ransom with respect to reliable electricity supply by some recalcitrant persons.”
Minister Benn pointed out that persons who may have issues and are desirous of seeking recourse or intervention are free to venture to the Office of the President. He advised that the stipulated timeframe for the squatters’ relocation will not be unduly disrupted.