As an Amerindian living in Lethem for many years, I am appalled at the ruthlessness and eyepass demonstrated to the residents who are indigenous to this area in relation to housing. Over the past months several residents have complained about being faced with the problem of lands for housing purposes. These issues are mostly encountered in the Tabatinga housing area, however there are cases all over.
Below is a sample of some of the problems:
Hamlet Saigo applied for a lot and was given the go-ahead to build. The lot had some big boulders embedded in the soil. He went to great lengths to hire a machine to get rid of the boulders. He then had the machine level the land and he fenced it. It was a plot that no one wanted. He was also offered blocks by an official, who apparently is involved in the business of selling building blocks. Now that the land is presentable, he has been issued with a cease order with the claim that the land is in dispute between two other residents;
There is a text message from overseas that was sent to a resident instructing the receiver to pay an officer US$150 as a bribe to get a piece of land for her. That message was sent on Monday, March 4, 2013. The land that was promised to the overseas-based resident was taken away from one, Yolanda Franklin, a teacher;
Another resident related that her son had a problem with his house lot application. Permission was given to her son to build. He was then subsequently told to remove all of his material from the land, since it was claimed that someone else had produced documents for the land. He could not find out who. It was then demanded that he pay $700,000. His brother was also told that he had to pay $350,000 or else he would get no land. If you know Lethem look at the trend. Years ago people lived for one another. The PPP/C is killing our culture.
One lady (name given) complained that she was allocated a lot but when she went to build she met a structure on her land built by someone else. This person demanded that she pay $400,000 for the work done to date. A complaint was lodged with the relevant official, but nothing was done.
A resident (name given) was allocated a lot by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission. That was before CH&PA’s involvement in the distribution of lands in Lethem. He was told that he has to re-apply since Housing is not recognizing any allocation done by GL&SC. Since he was waiting on the correct process, someone else went ahead and built a structure on his land. No action was taken by the housing officer when this was brought to her attention.
Another man (name supplied) was also allocated a lot by GL&SC in 1999 which he went ahead and occupied. He too was told that he has to re-apply. His efforts to pay for the lot have been met with a refusal to accept his money. Consequently, he cannot get electricity since a requirement is his allocation letter from CH&PA.
Someone else (name supplied) applied last year and was told that he would have to wait. He has since seen strangers coming after him who got lots. He was told that he has to pay $180,000 for his lot. He refused to pay since his expectation was that on paying, a lot would be assigned to him.
Yet another resident (name given) applied through CH&PA and was subsequently told that his application was lost. He went ahead and occupied a lot and is now being told that he has to pay an extra $200,000 as a fine for squatting.
A man who applied through CH&PA got his allocation letter in 2012 and went ahead and built. He is now being fined $100,000 for squatting.
The problem at Tabatinga goes back in time. After the NDC recognized that the lands in old Lethem were almost exhausted, they identified Culvert City and Tabatinga as new housing areas. These were surveyed and the allocations started by the GL&SD, the agency so charged with the responsibility at the time.
Supporters of the PPP/C apparently were told to occupy the lands because what followed next was a mad dash at land grabbing. Other residents, on recognizing what was happening, followed suit. Herein lies the problem.
The scheme has been in confusion ever since. Further, residents indigenous to the Rupununi found it very difficult to acquire a plot of land, while persons from as far as China were able to get their lot. Additionally, wealthy businessmen were allocated multiple lots, including an official who should be investigated.
I am therefore calling on the Minister of Housing to regularize the situation speedily. What we are demanding is for those residents to be allocated their lots on a where-is basis. Other lots should then be identified and this time, an orderly allocation process should be followed. Additionally, the lots should not follow the coastal blueprint. The Rupununi has lots of land and very little in the way of employment opportunities. People should be given at least 10,000 sq ft of land so that they can become involved in home-based endeavours to earn a living.
We also need to weed out corrupt practices and persons from the system; we need to unify the prices paid for lands and any consequential penalties.
We should return to a land selection committee, which worked in the past.
As a matter of fact since the PPP/C government boasts democracy, transparency and accountability let there be an urgent investigation into corrupt practices in relation to house lot allocations.
Every adult person in the Rupununi must be given the opportunity of owning a freehold plot of land. We have the resources so why not use them for the enrichment of our citizens. Certainly the government will benefit from the rates and taxes to be collected. Housing needs to put their house in order.
Editor, these are the realities in Lethem and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I do hope that Minister Ali will be able to honestly do something positive about this obnoxious situation urgently.
(Name and address provided)