Like the rest of Guyana, Timehri North residents have made preparations for the Christmas holidays notwithstanding the eventuality of their homes being bulldozed by the Public Works Ministry. These residents have extended their properties and renovated and painted them for the holidays. They seem ready to defend their investments if the need arises.
With the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport’s (CJIA) facilities, residents have been ordered to remove from the airport environment as they were labeled as squatters on the facility’s property.
But with no proper proposal on a relocation plan for the community, residents say they cannot remain on “pause” as “life goes on.” The residents are adamant that their social and family life must continue.
While some residents expressed concern over the next move the Public Works Ministry will make, they say that they have received no word from the government lately.
They are unclear as to what the future holds in that regard.
The Ministry has on more than one occasion bulldozed homes within the community, destroying new but incomplete structures, old homes and even foundations. It was stated at the time that no more homes were to be built, no extensions were to be done and the semi-finished buildings destroyed to prevent the completion of properties.
However, Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the Timehri North Community Development Council (TNCDC), Sherlander Daniels, told Kaieteur News yesterday that residents are going about their business, although the thoughts of the Ministry’s threats are still very fresh in their minds.
Daniels related that residents are going about with the Christmas preparations; extending, painting and making other investments in their properties.
She explained that the residents are not just catering for the holidays but they are living, “because lives cannot be brought to a standstill because of the government.”
The PRO said that the government has refused to meet with the community to iron out the issues which has primarily been their fault.
Timehri North residents are being regarded as squatters, but according to them, it was this very government that had removed them from the now regularized Timehri Base Road in the early 90s, saying that the area would have been for farming purposes only. A great number of those residents were said to have moved to Timehri North where a small amount of persons were already resding aand were engaged in subsistence farming.
Over time, the community grew and under this same People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government Timehri North residents were told to get their acts together to accommodate the regularization of the community. It was recalled that some time in 1997, Philomena Sahoye-Shury, National Director of Community Development Councils, told the community to apply for water, electricity and other facilities as the government was working to facilitate the regularization.
Excited and optimistic, the residents did so and to date, the community is lavished with all those amenities including landline telephone service.
However, the government’s offer never materialized. Now the Timehri North community is being chastised; it is slated for destruction, residents say. The PRO continued that the residents take the Minister’s refusal to meet with them as a negative sign. Daniels reminded that after demanding an audience with the Public Works Minister Robeson Benn and by extension the government, the authorities chose the persons they wanted to speak with; some of whom are alleged to have accepted small cash amounts to remove.
Daniels said that Timehri North residents have no problem with removing from the community, but the government must have a reasonable package for the residents. Daniels said the government has never engaged the community with information on an environmental assessment impact study which would encompass the affects of the project on the community.
She said there has been no real involvement of the Ministry of Housing if the government indeed seeks to relocate residents with minimal impact on their lives.
“The government has never addressed the magnitude of the interference on the family aspect of this issue,” Daniels said. “These are people’s lives and they are very much attached to the social fabric of things. It’s not like a bag of stone that you can remove from one place to another,” she urged.
When persons are ripped from their environment they are ripped from that social fabric, she reiterated. The government needs to properly address this issue before and even after they would have removed residents, the PRO continued.
In relation to the expansion of homes, Daniels added that people’s lives must continue. She said that people’s children are getting older, they need their own rooms, families are growing, they need to extend and persons have to continue to go about their business.
The PRO said persons are making investments and they are prepared to defend it if the government cannot treat them like citizens and give them the respect and dignity they deserve to live.
Last week Tuesday, the media and the Shadow Public Works Minister Joseph Harmon visited the Timehri North community. Residents were still distraught over the loss of their farms.
Apart from homes being destroyed by the Ministry, several acres of farm products were destroyed when the Chinese company contracted for the airport’s extension graded away crops.
The farmers cultivated fruits and vegetables but they were not compensated for their goods, neither were they given an area to relocate, the publication was told.
However, the government will not put a damper on the Christmas celebrations; the people are going to enjoy the holiday just like other citizens.
One woman told Kaieteur News that drinks and other items were already purchased and that her son would be painting certain parts of the house. She said her family is also considering building a shed in front of their home where they can sit and relax.
Another resident said his wife started playing Christmas carols since the month began and is deeply engrossed in her Christmas shopping and preparations. The man said that no eviction notice will take away his pepperpot, black cake and the simple joy that the holiday brings.
The CJIA project has seen some changes. Shadow Public Works Minister has demanded that the government make public what is happening with the “controversial” US$150M project. The expansion is said to be the second largest project embarked upon by the government.
Kaieteur News was told by the Public Works Ministry’s Roads and Habour Engineer, Ron Rahaman, that soil testing in the south of the airport runway is being conducted since soil to the north is unfavourable. But this revelation has caused serious questions about the project’s feasibility study and other initial works to surface. The project initiators have also been dragged over the coals for inflated prices, especially as it relates to single toilet bowls costing over $400,000.
Harmon said that the government must make a clear and definitive statement on the status of the project and tell the people of Timehri North how what is happening with their lives.
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