October 22 ,2020
Residents of Sarah Johanna on the East Bank of Demerara yesterday protested over attempts to have them removed from lands some of them have squatted on for more than thirty years ago.
According to the protesters, the request for removal comes from a private citizen who they allege is claiming ownership but is yet to come up with the relevant documents.
The protest came after the alleged owner showed up yesterday with an excavator and began digging along the government reserve at Sarah Johanna where he had pipelines put in the ground. It is believed that his eventual intention is to develop a housing scheme. Residents are further alleging that the man is claiming he purchased the land from another who they say is currently in court over the ownership of the land.
Residents protesting eviction
One of the residents, Sauchel Giles, told this newspaper that sometime last year was the first time they would have heard of the man who told them that he owned four acres of land.
“He said he got four acres of land and we say okay because we know is not we own neither. He could go and live in he corner and we gon continue living in we own. After a while he come back and said he got thirteen house lots but he ain’t satisfied with he thirteen house lots. Two, three weeks later, we hear he own from river straight to Lamaha [from the Demerara River to Cunha Canal]. He claiming now that he own forty-six acres…,” Giles explained.
According to Giles, the alleged owner of the land visited the community claiming that the police said he could give oral notices for them to vacate. The man then went to the Caledonia-Good Success Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) after which the NDC issued notices on October 29 of last year instructing the residents that they should dismantle and remove any illegal structure within fourteen days. As a result they protested last year.
Giles said that a current government official visited during the time his party was in opposition.
“He wasn’t in power yet. He said to us that when they get in he’ll try to resolve the issue and asked that we find five persons to represent us; I am one of the persons. The five of us went to the office and meet with the [alleged owner] and him [current government official] who said that when everything is over and the elections is finished, given that they [PPP party] win, they will either buy over the lands from this man and sell it back to the people at government price if it proves that this man is the owner because he said they couldn’t prove it at the time either or they will have us removed and find for places for us to live. We already spend so much time, so much money, so much energy developing these lands, where they gon give we? Government lot is already swamp and we already develop swamp to go and live back in swamp again. We can’t do that two times. We can’t afford it,” protested Giles.
On November 4, she said, the NDC withdrew the notices. She provided the original document to this newspaper showing the withdrawal of the notice to dismantle. However, the alleged owner returned to the village a week later. His son arrived also with a ‘canter’ filled with men carrying pick axes and sledge hammers and they began demolishing houses that were under construction as well as fences. Giles explained that on the day those persons arrived, the men of the village had gone to work leaving just the women and children at home. She recalled that, they (the women) raised their voices at the destruction being caused. At the time she was pregnant and recalls the man’s son’s verbal abuse.
Following this incident, a report was made at the police station for damage of property and threatening behaviour, but nothing ever came out of the matter.
Giles further said that she also visited the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) about having lights and water put in and was told that anything to be done on the land requires permission from them. However, according to the woman, GL&SC told her that the NDC should have contacted them via a letter but did not do so. They requested that they put their queries in a letter. However, on another visit on Tuesday, Giles said she saw the alleged owner speaking with a GL&SC staff member and remembered seeing the employee visit Sarah Johanna with the alleged owner. Giles said she spoke to this staff member and was told that the land was surveyed last year by the previous land owner who the current alleged owner would have purchased the land from. However, the former alleged land owner is said to have died some five years ago.
Village councillor Nauth (only name given) said that the alleged owner told her he was the owner for the land which prompted her to question why he won’t provide a transport or any document of ownership.
“This matter started in 2008 where the first person claiming the land is his own. He came and started bulldozing the people them fences,” Nauth recalled.
Kennett Samaroo said he has been living in Sarah Johanna since 1974 having purchased four acres of land. He said that the then president, Forbes Burnham, sold him the land at $20 an acre for it to be developed. He held in his hand a plan which he showed to this newspaper. He explained that he has had his part of the land surveyed and is awaiting the title for his land but to date has not received it.
Kennett said that some of the land was given to persons for the purpose of planting, some of whom began living on the land. He does cash crop planting and in the past has provided the supermarkets at Fogarty’s and Guyana Stores with his produce. He currently provides Bounty Supermarket with produce.
The man said a sub-contractor for GWI arrived to do some work in the area, damaging his crops and his water pump in the process, for which he was promised compensation. He observed that while the contractor provided him a document using a NDC letterhead, there was no signature affixed.
Kennett had complained to the police about the land issue but was told by them that land issues are not their concern. “They should be looking after fraud though,” the man opined.
He is adamant that the men coming to work in the area have not been showing any documents to prove who they really are and if their claims are indeed factual.
The man who is frustrated at the situation, stated that no one was claiming the land prior to now.
Sursattie Prashad, another resident who squatted there more than thirty years ago shared that her children were born and raised in Sarah Johanna. They now have their own children. Prashad said she pays house and land tax to the NDC and asked if the land was the man’s all along, why has he waited until decades later before showing up?
Semoon Tsoi said that she has been living in the area for twenty-five years. She explained that she has been planting in another part of the community for some ten years. She pointed out the freshly dug earth behind her farm where the pipeline is said to be. The alleged owner she said, was planning to continue his digging through her farm but was prevented by the villagers. Late last year, the man was said to have turned up with his excavator, and proceeded to raze the woman’s farm before destroying her son’s house as well. The son’s house was never rebuilt.