Govt intervenes to resolve land dispute between Sarah Johanna squatters and private developer

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Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Housing Minister Susan Rodrigues at Sarah Johanna on Friday

The PPP/C Government has intervened to resolve the ongoing land dispute between squatters at Sarah Johanna, East Bank Demerara, and a private land developer, who is claiming ownership of the land.

The developer is accused of wreaking havoc on the squatters after he claimed that four acres of the land they are occupying reportedly belongs to him and produced a Transport to show same. However, the squatters are contending that they have been living there for years.

The issue had escalated over the past week, resulting in protest action by the squatters as well as a standoff with the developer who had taken heavy-duty equipment – escorted by Police ranks – to the area and attempted to block the main drainage canal as well as excavate a farm which one of the squatters planted.

However, on Friday afternoon a Government team comprising of Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall; Minister within the Housing and Water Ministry Susan Rodrigues; Public Affairs Minister Kwame McKoy along with officials from the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) met with both the residents and private developer.

Minister Nandlall ttold this publication that ttheir visit was after a request was made for Government’s assistance to resolve the dispute.

He disclosed that both sides have come to an agreement for the GL&SC to conduct an occupation survey of the persons on the land and identify the parameters for the land covered by the Transport in possession of the developer. This exercise will commence on Monday and is expected to last approximately three days.

Following this, the Government team will meet with the developer to discuss possible ways to resolve the matter. Then on November 8, Government will mediate a meeting between the developer and the squatters with the hope of brokering a compromise.

“I made it very clear that the Government is simply attempting to mediate and will assist in bringing a resolution, if one is possible. I further made it clear that squatting is wrong and the Government will not encourage or countenance squatting. I emphasised that property – both owned by the State and owned by private individuals must be respected and the Government will not take sides. Certainly, the Government will not facilitate private property being unlawfully taken by squatters except if the squatting satisfies the legal requirement to confer the squatter with ownership by prescription,” the Nandlall pointed out.

However, in this case, the squatters in question do not fulfil the requirement of 12 years of uninterrupted occupation in order to secure prescriptive ownership of the land.

Squatters at Sarah Johanna meeting with the Ministers and Government officials

The Attorney General further explained that there are two portions of land at Sarah Johanna owned by two different individuals.

The front half of the land – which extends from the public Road – contains occupants who have been there for over 20 years. Many of these persons have filed for prescriptive titles in the land court.

According to Nandlall, who had represented these persons while practicing privately, some of those persons have already been granted and received their Transport from the court while the other proceedings are pending.

He added that in some other instances, residents had entered into agreements of sale for plots of land from the owner and those transactions are being dealt with.

However, the portion of land at the back part of Sarah Johanna is what is under dispute, Nandlall explained. He noted that this portion of land is currently owned by Rafiek Baksh, who has appointed Abdool Azim as his power-of-attorney.

Minister Nandlall noted that it was these persons occupying this part of the land along with some from the front section that they met with on Friday along with the landowner.

“Most of those persons on the back half are clearly squatters who have not been there for 12 years so they would not have acquired prescriptive titles. There is a serious confrontation that is taking place between those persons and the new owner which can lead to violence… So hopefully, we can broker a compromise,” Nandlall posited.

Meanwhile, during Friday’s meeting, Minister Rodrigues used the opportunity to register several of the squatters for house lots.