The government should not be assisting the persons from Tiger Bay any more than they assist other fire victims. There should be no preferential treatment. Whatever assistance is provided to persons who lose their homes outside of the city should be provided to those who have lost their homes in Georgetown.
It is not yet clear how many of those whose homes were destroyed in the recent fire in Tiger Bay were squatters on private property. If, however, amongst those who suffered losses in the recent fires there were persons who were squatting on private property, then those persons should not be granted any government relief.
Those who had permission to be living where they were living or owned the properties that were destroyed may be considered for assistance, but this assistance should be no more than what is provided to other victims of fires elsewhere.
This is not an unsympathetic position. Many years ago, Janet Jagan was lured into helping some residents of Tiger Bay to relocate. They were given special treatment. Not only were they provided with government land, but they were also given money and materials to help them construct new homes on government-allotted lands.
Before any new assistance is given to Tiger Bay, the government should undertake an audit to determine just how many of those who were given lands have actually moved into their new residences and how many of them have remained in Tiger Bay, which is now a shanty town right in the middle of the capital city.
Most of the lands that are occupied by shacks in Tiger Bay are privately-owned properties. Many of these lands once housed structures that were either destroyed by fire or deemed unfit for occupation. But no sooner were these lands cleared of their original structures, shacks were erected on them.
Some of these shacks have electricity and running water, which calls into question the level of surveillance being exercised by the major utility companies.
Tiger Bay needs to be regularized. But it needs to be regularized by ensuring that the lawful owners can take possession of their properties, not by offering assistance to allow possible squatting on these private lands.
Many of the squatters would have come from other places and taken up residence in Tiger Bay because it is centrally located. While they are setting up their shacks, the real owners are having headaches removing them – just like a certain location in Kingston which a few years ago suffered a fire. Instead of using that opportunity to clear the premises of the squatters, a member of the Georgetown City Council actually made a statement which could only have had the effect of encouraging them to stay.
There is an urgent need for some support to be given to individuals who own private property but are unable to have possession of the properties because of the presence of squatters. When one occupant leaves, another one takes over. It is a nightmare for the owners. The government has to develop policies and laws to support private owners and to outlaw squatting and make it a criminal offence. Otherwise Guyana’s development will be stymied.
When you have a property in Guyana you are fearful of leaving it unoccupied, because of squatters who move in, destroy it, and then give you hell in regaining possession. You are also afraid of renting it out because sometimes tenants refuse to pay their rent and it takes an eternity for the legal process to be completed. While you are pursuing these legal options, your building is falling to pieces. Many a decent property has been reduced to stumps because of it either being left unattended or being rented to unscrupulous individuals.
This is why it is important for the government to only assist legitimate tenants and homeowners who were affected by the recent fires, and only to the extent of the help normally given to fire victims. It is important also for the government – which spent millions helping persons in Tiger Bay to remove from that location – to do an audit to decide how successful was that exercise.
Judging from the numerous shacks on private properties in the area, it is clear that the policy has not been effective in bringing much needed order. Living conditions are poor; persons are crammed together in small shacks and often have to share certain services; electricity and water theft in the area is a problem and of course, the proximity of this shanty town to the commercial district is bound to affect legitimate businesses. The area is ripe for a major outbreak of an epidemic.
If help has to be given, it should be done in a manner that benefits only those who are living in Tiger Bay legitimately. Squatters should receive no compensation.
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