Housing Minister blasts Ferguson for using squatting as “political tool to satisfy constituencies”

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Housing and Water Minister Colin Croal

Minister of Housing and Water Collin Croal has blasted the APNU/AFC Member of Parliament Annette Ferguson for “maliciously and recklessly inciting confusion and distortion” in the minds of not only squatters in the Success area, but squatters throughout the length and breadth of Guyana.

Ferguson who served briefly as Minister with responsibility for Housing in the then Ministry of Communities under the Coalition Administration, during a virtual media engagement on Thursday, called for lands to be regularised at Success on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD), where squatters have taken over a large portion of State-owned lands.

She told the media that the Coalition is lobbying for those persons to remain on the same lands, even as the Government is making alternative arrangements to address the squatters’ situation.

“The APNU+AFC Coalition calls on the Government to act with compassion, to meaningfully consult with the citizens in desperate need of housing, and to take urgent action to ‘regularise’ the squatters at Success,” Ferguson said.

However, Minister Croal in response expressed that the Coalition should act more responsibly by discouraging persons from squatting and to encourage them to acquire lands using the legitimate process in place by the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).

“Ferguson’s misguided interpretation of the Constitution and the law of the land cannot be overlooked. A citizen’s right to land must not be obscured by his/her obligation to follow the rule of law.

“It is simple; persons cannot occupy private lands without facing the consequences,” Croal said.

APNU/AFC MP Annette Ferguson

He noted that it is important to be reminded that the corridors of political power under the PPP administration “is paved with the rule of law and every citizen, including Ferguson, should follow and refrain from inciting anarchy by using such a delicate matter like squatting as a political tool to satisfy constituencies, she and the APNU/AFC, have failed and are continuing to fail”.

Croal expressed that Ferguson needs to be reminded that the days where the Housing Department, under the Ministry of Communities, was used as “a destination for governmental musical chairs” with Ministers being changed countless times for ineffectiveness and lack of integrity, has come to an end.

He highlighted that the Housing Ministry is now under the stewardship of competent Ministers who have begun the process to ensure that all Guyanese benefit from lands using a fair and legal process outlined by the CH&PA.

Mass squatting along the ECD corridor had resulted in a confrontation between residents and State officials after squatters were informed that they were squatting on Government reserve lands.

Persons had even become violent when they were asked to vacate the lands which belong to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), primarily at Vryheid’s Lust, Success and Chateau Margot.

This had caused the Ministry of Housing and Water to intervene, promising the squatters house lots in one of 22 areas which are being developed.

A few days ago, it was reported that lands in 22 areas on the East Coast, East Bank, and West Bank of Demerara; and at Linden, in Berbice, and in Essequibo, were approved for housing in the 2020 Emergency Budget. It is believed that allocations for the residents will fall under this project.

In September, a meeting was convened and Government’s zero-tolerance position on squatting was further made clear.

The Ministry has assured that all the necessary infrastructure for sustainable housing: such as roads, potable water, electrification, and drainage and irrigation, will be installed at whichever locations these persons are placed.

Already, the issue of squatting in this area has resulted in dire impact for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). The Corporation has lost a significant amount of its research crop at the Chateau Margot Nursery, after some 17,000 varieties of sugarcane were destroyed by the squatters to make room for their housing needs.

The damaged plants were of fine quality, with the potential to earn the country billions per year. The loss has also dampened Guyana’s thrust in the sector, since years of research have been completely devastated.