Prime Minister Mark Phillips during a visit yesterday to Success, East Coast Demerara, squatting area (Photo from President Irfaan Ali’s Facebook page)
October 18 ,2020
Prime Minister Mark Phillips yesterday offered to provide shelter to squatters at Success, on the East Coast of Demerara, who have refused to vacate the lands there.
Minister Kwame McCoy, who holds responsibility for Public Affairs within the Office of the Prime Minister, told Sunday Stabroek that the visit by Phillips, who was accompanied by officials from the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), was in keeping with the government’s efforts to peacefully resolve the impasse with the squatters over their occupation of the lands.
He said that over the week some persons have left after the flooding of the lands but some still remain and they are being offered shelter by the government. However, he did not say what sort of shelter arrangements were in place or how many had received the offer.
The Success dam was flooded as part of preparations ongoing for cane cultivation. The squatters have complained that their homes have been flooded, broken down and the elderly, sick and children living there are suffering. The flooding has resulted in many persons starting to move out but the ones who remain are maintaining that they have no other option and have called on the government for help.
McCoy told this newspaper that the move by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to flood the land was in keeping with the agricultural procedure to have the land ready for cultivation. He said that this is a normal procedure and is not “inhumane” as has been claimed in some quarters.
On Friday, accountant Nigel Hinds yesterday resigned with immediate effect from the Board of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) over the manner in which it has handled squatters at Success, on the East Coast of Demerara.
The state holding company NICIL has flooded the area and the police have fired pellets on several occasions when they said tensions arose and there were confrontations. Teargas has also been used on the squatters.
Sources say that in his resignation letter to NICIL Chair, Paul Cheong, Hinds said that he wanted to disassociate himself from the “inhumane actions and onslaught on Guyanese residents that occupy the Success area on the East Coast of Demerara, an area of land that is owned by NICIL and not by the Guyana Sugar Corpora-tion.”
“Tear-gassing and shooting pellets on the residents of Success, destroying bridges and homes, flooding the area where they reside, are crude, cruel and callous actions; actions that cast a gloom over our nation.”
“My continued presence on the NICIL Board creates the public impression that I support the barbaric and atrocious acts mentioned above; I do not support these actions, thus my resignation”.
Opposition leader Joseph Harmon visited the area on Friday and he urged the state to find a mutually beneficial solution to the situation while stressing that the people there are the state’s responsibility. He also made comments about the treatment of the squatters.
While GuySuCo — erroneously identified by this newspaper as the owner of the lands and attempting to remove the squatters from the area — has conducted the flooding operation, it has since denied being participants in the dismantling of homes and other accusations made by the squatters.
GuySuCo not dismantling homes
Acting GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sasenarine Singh yesterday said the company has played no part in the dismantling of the homes of the squatters.
“GuySuCo is an agricultural company. GuySuCo is on the land to prepare it for agricultural purposes. In doing preparation of the land for sugar cultivation, there is nothing in the scientific model that calls for dismantling of structures on dams. GuySuCo is emphatically denying that it broke down any one’s structure with any excavator as was reported in the Stabroek News,” Singh said during a telephone call yesterday.
A company spokesperson previously told this newspaper that the main interest for GuySuCo is for the land to be made available so it can carry out its programme.
The preparation of the land is in keeping with the government’s decision to re-open sugar estates and the need for sugar cane cultivation. To this end, there have been continued attempts to get the squatters to vacate the lands but many of them have said they have nowhere else to go.
Weeks ago, NICIL and GuySuCo officials visited the squatting area and spoke to the squatters about the plans for the land. However, the squatters were reportedly “aggressive” and “hostile”. This led to a confrontation with the police, who fired tear gas and pellets.
This newspaper was told that a company was responsible for the dismantling of the homes. During the days that followed, the squatters were given some time to vacate the lands. Many also met with officials from the Central Housing and Planning Authority to legally access house lots although many of them have repeatedly claimed that they have applied for lots and had been waiting a long time for feedback.
According to some, they have been squatting in the area since before 2015 while others recently moved in and took up land. This decision was said to be prompted by the impact of COVID-19.
McCoy, who suggested that some persons are trying to politicise the situation, said that some of the squatters have already applied for land and those who haven’t are being advised to apply for land and they will be listed as urgent cases.
President Irfaan Ali last Friday urged the squatters to allow his government to develop housing the “right way”. “…We want you to own your homes too; that is why we sent the housing team so many times to see you. We want to help you. We are going to move as fast as possible in this programme but I am appealing to Guyanese let us do it the right way,” he said during his feature address at the opening of the “Dream Realised” Land Title Distribution Ceremony h at the National Stadium at Providence.