CH&PA admits no consultation with Mocha NDC on relocating of squatter families

-talks to be held Sunday

An aerial view of the community at Lombard and Broad streets.

The CH&PA yesterday admitted that there was no consultation with the Mocha Arcadia Neighbour-hood Democratic Council (NDC), prior to an announcement that squatters from Lombard and Broad streets would be relocated there.

Making the admission yesterday was the Chairman of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), Lelon Saul. His statement came at a press conference after the NDC a day earlier had said it had not been consulted and had questions on the decision.

It was the Minister in the Ministry of Commun-ities, Valerie Patterson who announced on July 31st that dozens of squatter families would be relocated to the East Bank Demerara NDC. The fact that there were no consultations with the NDC up to that point would be seen as disrespectful of the local government system for which ground-breaking elections were held in March 2016.

Yesterday, the Mocha Arcadia NDC, in relation to the proposal to relocate  43 families to Barnwell North, asked that the authorities consider evenly distributing the squatters throughout other developing communities. This was related by Rudolph Adams, the NDC Chairman, in an interview with this newspaper.

During a meeting between the NDC councillors, Barnwell community leaders and the CH&PA on Monday, the council expressed concerns that the relocation of squatters to Barnwell North will impact their crime rate, and have other social implications.

“Our community has its own social problems in terms of crime and drugs and so forth and that area, I personally know that it has a problem with drugs. The police have been running regularly to those areas, and to bring those persons into our community is like transferring the problem from one area to another,” Adams stated.

“…our recommendation to them is though we understand the Ministry’s mandate, we were asking that they distribute, because they’re saying it’s 45 families…And perhaps we can get more socially out of it and so forth,” he added.

Adams related that the authorities at CH&PA committed to examining their recommendations, adding that on Sunday, a wider community consultation will be held with residents to get their views on the matter.

Meanwhile, at a press briefing held at the CH&PA yesterday, Saul addressed the ministry’s tardiness in holding consultations with the council.

“First and foremost, the consultation with the council was not timely. The residents of Mocha Arcadia, I think they learned of our decision via the media, which I think was bad. We should have consulted with them first,” Saul said.

Adams had stated that they were first made aware of the relocation through the media, and that it was not until after the council’s statutory meeting, when attempts were made to have an appointment set up, that the ministry wrote to them and informed them of the plans.

“…they would have consulted with the different agencies; they consult with Lands and survey, they consult with the ministry of agriculture… so they’re aware of some of the problems. What they didn’t do was to consult with the NDC, which I would have indicated is more or less disrespectful to the NDC and the community at large. Because if you’ve been doing all this consultation and failed to consult with the local authority, well then where are we going?” Adams questioned.

Yesterday, Saul stated that Monday’s engagement was intended to “inform the council of CH&PA’s intention to relocate the residents of Broad and Lombard Street.”

He indicated that the intention was to relocate 40 to 43 families.

“Of course CH&PA has no intention of imposing our will upon the people of Mocha Arcadia. It is an engagement and we want them to find favour with our position,” the CEO said, after making reference to this weekend’s upcoming community engagement with residents.

Saul stated that other concerns raised by the council and community leaders are in relation to crime, concerns that the lands in question are ancestral lands, and also that there are residents in Barnwell who have been unable to receive title to the property, although they would have been occupying it for a considerable amount of time.

On July 31st, Patterson told reporters that her department would be working with Food for the Poor to provide homes for the squatters at Barnwell North.

Responding to questions at the ministry’s Mid-Term Review, Patterson noted that $42 million would be spent for the construction of 70 homes, while $30 million would be spent on infrastructure development, including a road.

The tendering process for the road has begun, with public advertisements already in place, Patterson said. Each home is expected to cost $1.2 million.

The squatting area came to public attention after former Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence in September, 2016, led a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the area as part of their first country visit to Guyana.

A statement from the IACHR on the September 21 to 23 visit said in part, “During its visit to the neighbourhood of Lombard Street, the IACHR delegation was shocked by the extreme poverty and precarious living conditions of its inhabitants. The community comprises approximately 40 adults and 80 children with clear housing, sanitation, and health problems, as well as limited work opportunities and scant social services provided by the State. During the visit to the community, the IACHR was accompanied by Minister Volda Lawrence, who pledged to continue to work to improve the situation and opportunities of the community’s residents. The IACHR calls upon the State to adopt urgent steps to improve the socioeconomic (situation) of the Lombard Street residents and to create, immediately and without delay, conditions that allow them to exercise all their human rights.”

Several visits to the area by Stabroek News saw the residents publicly declaring their requests for land on which they can establish their homes.

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