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…Croal assures everything will be in their favour
By Svetlana Marshall
Minister of Housing and Water, Collin Croal, said the Government is moving ahead with its plans to relocate residents of Cane View- an unregularised community near Mocha, East Bank Demerara. But the residents there have vowed to resist any attempt to have them removed.
Croal said the move is to facilitate the construction of a four-lane highway. “I am not going anywhere. I am not leaving my house to go and live in no swamp,” Melissa Carl told Village Voice News in an interview.
Carl is among the persons residing at Cane View – a squatting settlement located between Plantation Herstelling and Mocha Arcadia on the East Bank of Demerara. It is the home to approximately 35 households and well over 100 residents.
However, in early September, the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) signaled its intention to have the squatters relocated in an effort to facilitate the Eccles to Great Diamond four-lane highway. As part of its resettlement and relocation plan, CH&PA said it will provide the squatters with house lots, and aid in the rebuilding of structures based on valuations done.
But Carl told Village Voice News that residents are not in favour of relocation and will resist any attempt to remove them from Cane View. Two areas for relocation have been identified, one of which is located in Herstelling, but Carl said it is nothing but a “swamp.”
“I am not satisfied, and I am not going anywhere. I am not leaving my house to go and live in no swamp…I am not going to settle for that,” said the mother of two, who has been living in Cane View for approximately 17 years.
Carl said after years of living in Cane View, she transformed her small wooden house into a concrete single flat home valued approximately $22M.
Another resident, Roxanne Allen, said it was desperation that caused her to settle in Cane View some 25 years ago. “I was living with my mother, she had 10 children and we were living in a small one-bedroom house, and so I was desperately in need of a place, so that’s how we started squatting over here. I had one child, a daughter, at the time,” Allen explained.
Allen is reportedly the second person to have squatted in the area. Back then, persons occupied small makeshift houses, however, over the years, persons rebuilt wooden and concrete houses – some two storeys. “I want to stay right here because I get a set of cows, that I normally depend on,” Allen told Village Voice News.
According to the mother of eight, initially the land, in which they occupy, belonged to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) but was given to the people of Mocha to plant grass for their cattle. According to her, upon occupying the area, the squatters approached GuySuCo and the Central Housing and Planning Authority to have the area regularised, and were assured that the land would remain theirs. Allen said both Governments – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) – had offered the squatters the assurance that Cane View would be regularised.
The middle-aged woman said it was with much disappointment that she learnt of government’s plan to have them relocated. “I was planning to build a concrete house before they come up with this stupid-ness; I have my money to build my house, plus I have my money to pay for my land because I personally, I don’t have any intention of moving from out here,” Allen said.
“I know when we hear the value of the houses, we wouldn’t accept it, it wouldn’t be anything, so I think this land here, they should leave us on this land,” she said.
Mark Gordon – a father of one, who has been living in Cane View for 25 years, complained that the area identified for relocation is not only a swamp but a designated playground.
“The place that they putting us, it is like a swamp field, you can mine pigs, it is a swamp field,” he lamented. “The next thing to, I mining livestock, I have over about 60 pigs plus 100 ducks…If they put me on a normal house-lot, how I mining my livestock? That is my living!” he added.
A squatter, who operates a shop in the area, said the decision to relocate them is concerning, noting that even the residents of Herstelling, who reside in close proximity to the playground have registered their objection.
“Another issue, I am a young entrepreneur and I am scared that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to actually go out there and do business, because I just can’t go and pick up myself and start doing business there because of the fact that I may not even get the okay from the NDC to reopen or start a new business over there,” she said.
APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, Nima Flue-Bess told Village Voice News that the Government should find an alternative route for the road, and not disrupt the lives of the residents of Cane View.
“I think the Government should find an alternative and allow these residents to continue living here, and continue the regularisation of the area,” MP Flue-Bess said while noting that for approximately 30 years, residents have invested millions of dollars to develop the land.
She posited that there is enough space behind the squatting settlement to facilitate the road project. “Why is it that the road cannot be placed at an alternative location that will not disrupt the lives of these people? And I want to understand too, are you telling me too that a road is going to take up the entire field? These persons would have already taken into consideration the guidance provided by the Ministry of Housing for them to leave space for road,” the APNU+AFC MP said.
She is hopeful that the government would cease its relocation exercise, and allow for good sense to prevail.
But the Minister of Housing and Water said that the area upon which the squatters are currently occupying is government’s reserve. “When we do planning and we do layout in housing areas, there are always reserves identified for future expansion and development,” he said while noting that the Eccles to Great Diamond Four-lane Highway is an important developmental project.
While the residents contended that under both governments, CH&PA had indicated that the squatting settlement would be regularised, Minister Croal told Village Voice News, such was not the case. According to Minister Croal, the PPP/C Government never indicated a willingness to regularise Cane View.
It was explained that houses were marked in numerical order by CH&PA for record keeping and to assist in the assessment of the area and not for regularisation. “So numbering it doesn’t give legitimacy, it just allows the CH&PA team to do their work, prepare the report and match the infrastructure with the location to the report and assessment,” Minister Croal explained.
He said while CH&PA has been able to regularise some squatting settlements, others cannot be regularised because of their location. “Relocation has always been part of the programme that we have at CH&PA because there are times where you have to regularise or where you have to relocate and even when you regularise, you have to move people around or households around; and so the format we are utilising is no different from how CH&PA and Ministry of Housing and Water have been operating in dealing with unregulated settlements,” Minister Croal explained.
Noting that Government is moving ahead with its relocation plans, Minister Croal said the valuation has been completed and the report is being compiled.
“As I speak, the valuation exercise is ongoing. In fact, they have physically completed the assessment, and they are now doing up the necessary report – that is the government’s Valuation Department,” the Housing Minister disclosed.
He said squatters would be compensated based on the value of their homes. Their farming activities will also be considered.
Additionally, he said, once relocated, the residents would have access to water, electricity, healthcare, education and recreational facilities. Noting that it is a win-win situation for everyone, Minister Croal said Government will be subsidising the cost of the land so residents would not have to bear that financial burden. According to him, when the residents are relocated, everything will be in their favour.