CH & PA be­gins de­mo­li­tion to re­move squat­ters from Sophia re­serves

Stabroek News - - FRONT PAGE - By David Pa­pan­nah

The es­tab­lish­ment of the Lo­cal Govern­ment Com­mis­sion is man­dated by the con­sti­tu­tion. Why hasn’t the Granger ad­min­is­tra­tion named its mem­bers as yet.

The Cen­tral Hous­ing and Plan­ning Author­ity (CH & PA) yes­ter­day de­mol­ished al­most two dozen struc­tures on the govern­ment re­serve in ‘A’ Field, Sophia, dur­ing an ex­er­cise that was brought to a pre­ma­ture end af­ter a con­fronta­tion with squat­ters, some of whom claimed they had not re­ceived any no­tice to move.

The de­mo­li­tion ex­er­cise is to tar­get struc­tures that were il­le­gally built on the govern­ment re­serves in ‘A’ Field and ‘B’ Field, in prepa­ra­tion for the ex­e­cu­tion of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment works un­der the US$30 mil­lion ‘Road Net­work Upgrade and Ex­pan­sion Pro­gramme.’

At around 8 am, the CH & PA de­mo­li­tion team, along with staff from the sis­ter agen­cies and po­lice be­gan the ex­er­cise. While it got off to a smooth start, the team was met with re­sis­tance as it pro­ceeded to the south­ern end of ‘A’ Field. One fam­ily formed a hu­man bar­ri­cade and even dis­man­tled part of their bridge to pre­vent the team from ac­cess­ing their home. A few oth­ers wept and begged for their homes not to be torn down.

De­spite steady ver­bal as­saults, the team con­tin­ued with its work. How­ever, due to the re­sis­tance from res­i­dents, who were un­will­ing to com­ply and were get­ting ag­gres­sive, the ex­er­cise was even­tu­ally halted.

Some 1,200 per­sons are es­ti­mated to be il­le­gally oc­cu­py­ing the re­serves.

In a state­ment is­sued yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, the CH & PA said it de­mol­ished 21 struc­tures dur­ing the ex­er­cise, which was con­ducted to­gether with the Pub­lic In­fra­struc­ture Min­istry, Guyana Power and Light Inc, Guyana Water Inc, and the Guyana Lands and Sur­veys Com­mis­sion, with help from the Guyana Po­lice Force.

It re­ported that the de­mol­ished struc­tures in­cluded some which were aban­doned, some re­cently con­structed, and some which were now un­der construction. In one in­stance, it noted, the owner of one of the struc­tures was the owner of a house lot.

While some res­i­dents said they had re­ceived no­tices and some said they had not, the CH & PA state­ment noted that last week Thurs­day, the agency along with mem­bers of the An­tiSquat­ting Task Force of Con­stituen­cies 5 and 6 hand-de­liv­ered no­tices to per­sons who had il­le­gally con­structed on the re­serves, de­spite be­ing fore­warned.

It also said that the ex­er­cise was planned af­ter ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with sis­ter agen­cies and com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “It must be noted that prior to to­day’s ex­er­cise, per­sons who were in re­ceipt of no­tices which were served on Thurs­day last, vis­ited the agency seek­ing an ex­ten­sion of time. The Agency was le­nient and ex­ten­sions were granted. On the ground to­day also, ex­ten­sions were granted to some squat­ters who re­quested,” it ex­plained.

The CH & PA, while not­ing that it in­ten­si­fied its Anti-Squat­ting Cam­paign in the last five months, said squat­ters who never ap­plied for Govern­ment Hous­ing So­lu­tions were in­vited to lodge ap­pli­ca­tions. In ad­di­tion to th­ese ini­tia­tives, it noted that sev­eral bill­boards warn­ing against squat­ting were erected in ar­eas where squat­ting is wide­spread, while meet­ings were held with com­mu­nity lead­ers and no­tices is­sued to squat­ters liv­ing on the re­serves.

Fur­ther, the state­ment added that the is­sue was ad­dressed again dur­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions held through­out the Lilien­daal to Cum­mings Park area on the re­for­mu­la­tion of the ‘Road Net­work Upgrade and Ex­pan­sion Pro­gramme.’

‘Re­moval a must’

Clayton Hinds, a Sophia res­i­dent and a mem­ber of the task force set up by the CH & PA to ad­dress squat­ting in the com­mu­nity, ex­plained that the re­moval of squat­ters is nec­es­sary since it is a re­quire­ment be­fore the up­grad­ing of in­fra­struc­ture in the com­mu­nity can take place. Hinds said that yes­ter­day’s ac­tiv­ity was the first of a se­ries of de­mo­li­tion ex­er­cises that will be con­ducted over the next few months to re­move squat­ters. “Only re­cently, the govern­ment has taken a po­si­tion to try to lift the stan­dards of life that is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by those per­sons liv­ing on the dams...,” he stated. “They [squat­ters] need to be cog­nisant of the ap­proach taken by the govern­ment to im­prove their qual­ity of life in this area, hence their re­moval is a must,” he added.

Like the CH & PA, Hinds also noted that no­tices were served in ad­vance of the ex­er­cise un­der­taken yes­ter­day.

While stat­ing that the num­ber of per­sons il­le­gally oc­cu­py­ing the re­serves ap­peared to be in­creas­ing, Hinds said the sit­u­a­tion needs to be ad­dressed and can­not be en­cour­aged. “If the state is go­ing to be spend­ing this vol­ume of money to im­prove peo­ple’s

lives, then you can­not have squat­ting… we need to re­move the squat­ters,” he main­tained.

But many res­i­dents who showed up to wit­ness the de­mo­li­tion also crit­i­cised the govern­ment for the ac­tion as well as the mem­bers of the de­mo­li­tion team as they ex­e­cuted their du­ties. Some begged for some of the struc­tures not to be bro­ken down or re­moved. “Give them time,” was a com­mon re­frain, al­beit pep­pered with ex­ple­tives, of res­i­dents, who fol­lowed the de­mo­li­tion crew.

One res­i­dent sug­gested to those who lost their homes to turn up at the head­quar­ters of the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Con­gress Re­form (PNCR) at Con­gress Place, Sophia. “Mek tents and sleep deh be­cause [PNCR leader and Pres­i­dent David] Granger send them. He tek we vote and send them to bruk down we lil house,” the res­i­dent said.

Agatha Valen­tine, whose daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren formed a hu­man bar­ri­cade in front of their home, said it was only a year ago that they con­structed their shack to pro­vide a shel­ter for a dozen per­sons, com­pris­ing five adults and seven chil­dren.

Valen­tine told re­porters that her daugh­ter had been try­ing to get a piece of land to house her fam­ily since 1997. “It is a case where they have to find some­where to live… give peo­ple [a] chance to live. They are young and mak­ing chil­dren and they have to get place to live,” said Valen­tine. Valen­tine’s grand­daugh­ter, who is preg­nant with her sec­ond child, tear­fully said that they had no al­ter­na­tive hous­ing. “If they break this down, we have nowhere else to go... they give us a no­tice to move by the 16th [of Oc­to­ber] but we have nowhere to go… this is the first time we get a no­tice,” she said.

An­other squat­ter, Fitzroy Blair, who shed tears as he pleaded with Lord, asked for two days to move. The man’s son, Lorenzo Blair, said they had to re­sort to squat­ting since their land­lord raised their rent and they were un­able to pay it. The son ex­plained that he has been un­able to work af­ter break­ing a foot in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent four months ago. “I can’t work to help with the rent. They didn’t give us a no­tice,” he said, while not­ing that he, his daugh­ter and his par­ents lived in the house. “We lived in Ber­bice. I don’t know if we would have to re­turn there…,” he re­sponded, when asked what they would do.

The Valen­tine and Blair homes were even­tu­ally spared.

Squat­ters whose home were not de­mol­ished yes­ter­day were told that they have 28 days to evac­u­ate the re­serve or the CH & PA will pro­ceed to tear down their struc­tures.

‘There is noth­ing!’

Fa­ther of three Stephan Forde was not as for­tu­nate as his pleas did not save his home. Forde, who is a ma­son, said the lit­tle shack pro­vided shel­ter to his three chil­dren. “They gone to school. When they come from school, what they would come to? There is noth­ing!” he said, plead­ing with the crew. “Ow, y’all stop na! This is for me and my chil­dren. Is three years now I am liv­ing here. I don’t have a land to build on. Ow, y’all stop na!” he con­tin­ued to plead as the work­ers tore his house down.

A shop owner told re­porters that she did not re­ceive any no­tice, though she ad­mit­ted to know­ing that there had been plans to tear down il­le­gal prop­er­ties on the re­serve. “Here we are op­er­at­ing for 20 some­thing year and it is un­fair to us to move with­out a no­tice. When we came out, peo­ple show us the no­tice they got, we didn’t get any and I was hop­ing we would have got­ten one this week but noth­ing,” Olive Ghanie, the owner of a small shop on the re­serve, said.

The wo­man was an­noyed that she could not get ma­te­ri­als to re­build in front of her home. “I made stuff to sell this morn­ing and to know we are com­ing and meet­ing with some­thing like this this morn­ing is very hard…,” she said. “We know this is govern­ment re­serve but be­fore this govern­ment try to take us un­der city coun­cil, this is what they come and do here, try to take bread out of peo­ple’s mouth and can­not of­fer peo­ple bis­cuits,” Ghanie added.

Kenneth Ray, the owner of a me­chanic shop that was de­mol­ished, was will­ing to com­ply when the crew showed up. He ad­mit­ted to re­ceiv­ing a no­tice that his prop­erty would be de­mol­ished if he re­mained on the re­serves. Ray said that he was mak­ing the nec­es­sary ar­range­ments to move his busi­ness but the can­ter did not show up to re­move his prop­erty.

Mean­while, some res­i­dents did ex­press grat­i­tude to the CH & PA for the re­moval of the il­le­gal struc­tures since they be­lieve it would also rid the com­mu­nity of crim­i­nal hubs. Through­out the ex­er­cise, GPL work­ers were seen re­cov­er­ing elec­tri­cal wires from homes and on the ground. At in­ter­vals, they had to dis­con­nect the il­le­gal con­nec­tions di­rectly from the power lines.

The CH & PA said that yes­ter­day’s ex­er­cise was the sec­ond of its kind con­ducted by the agency within the last year. It noted that it was forced to aban­don an ex­er­cise on Oc­to­ber 28th, 2016, af­ter squat­ters be­came ag­gres­sive to­wards staff and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. Dur­ing that ex­er­cise, the wind­screen of a ve­hi­cle be­long­ing to the agency was de­stroyed.

“It is im­por­tant for per­sons oc­cu­py­ing govern­ment re­serves to un­der­stand that they are pre­vent­ing agen­cies from ex­e­cut­ing crit­i­cal drainage and other de­vel­op­men­tal works in com­mu­ni­ties,” CH & PA added.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

Agatha Valen­tine’s daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren stand guard over their bridge, part of which they dis­man­tled to save their home from be­ing torn down.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

A CH&PA worker de­mol­ish­ing a squat­ter’s home.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

Kenneth Ray be­ing as­sisted by one of his ap­pren­tices to re­move a mat­tress that was in his me­chanic shop.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

Th­ese tele­vi­sions were among a num­ber of items found in one of the shacks that was torn apart.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

A GPL lines­man dis­con­nect­ing an il­le­gal con­nec­tion that was at­tached di­rectly to the power line.

(Photo by Keno Ge­orge)

CH&PA work­ers re­mov­ing house­hold items from a home dur­ing the de­mo­li­tion ex­er­cise.

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