Squatting- a problem of sorts
The concept of squatting has become endemic. People who need a plot of land simply move to any vacant spot and erect a structure of sorts. Such erections escape notice and before long the structures become permanent features. This explains the presence of so many structures on Government reserves, along trenches and on lands once designated for playfields and shopping plazas.
Many of the properties along the railway embankment are squatter structures, including some of the fashionable homes that now adorn the location. Some have been there for so long that after a few years the people would have approached the courts seeking prescriptive rights. Many must have been successful.
In South Sophia there were clashes between squatters and the authorities at the outset. This resulted from the fact that the squatters happened to choose a piece of land that was under active consideration or identified for a specific purpose. It still happens today.
However, for the greater part, squatters escape detection because there is no programme to monitor the illegal occupation of state or government lands. Early detection often leads to the demolition of the structure. But this is at best, sporadic. The action, when it comes, lead some people to accuse the entity entrusted with the demolition, of a selective programme.
Still fresh in many minds is the speed with which the authorities rushed to thwart efforts at squatting. When news spread that land was available at La Bonne Intention people moved to stake out claims. The government supported by the police, moved with equal speed to eject the squatters. It was the same thing in South Sophia until 1992 when the people decided to test the government.
On Monday, there was an attempt by some people affected by overtopping during the recent spring tides at West Demerara. The people, to begin with, were squatters and they occupied land adjoining the seawall. The waters from the Atlantic flooded them out so they simply moved to another open section of the community.
The Ministry of Housing moved with alacrity to demolish the squatter settlement that was emerging. Immediately the voices were raised in protest. There was talk about heartless behavior but nothing of the illegality of squatting.
Investigations revealed that the squatters were offered land in an established housing scheme but they declined for a variety of reasons. Some claimed that their children were attending school in the neighbourhood and that they could not transfer them. Some claimed that their husbands worked in the area so moving would be out of the question.
The bottom line is that the government decided that it would brook squatting no longer. Had this been a constant course of action there would not have been the problems and the sometimes-hostile reactions from the affected people and the problematic onlookers.
For example, the Works Ministry must now extend money to remove squatters from just about every location across the country. In some cases the encroaching structures were erected at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The owners talked about aesthetics as a means of justification. In other cases some of the structures were business enterprises as people challenged the authorities to prevent them from making a livelihood of their choosing. They are served notices these days; their illegal act is duly recognized. Some heed the notices; others opt to face the challenge. The latter invariably lose and the overtly sympathetic public puts a spin on the action to halt squatting.
The government needs to send a strong signal that squatting is illegal and would not be tolerated. However, with the elections a few months away there may be a letting up on enforcement and a resurgence of a chronic situation.