As the Ministry of Communities moves ahead with plans to relocate squatters living at Lombard and Broad streets to Plantation Prosperity at Barnwell, in the Mocha/Arcadia constituency, Junior Minister Valerie Patterson-Yearwood has said that all residents would benefit from planned infrastructural and social development.
Patterson-Yearwood made the announcement on Monday during a press conference at the boardroom of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), where she stressed that the rejection of the relocation of the squatters by the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) was discriminatory and that government could not allow communities to determine who gets to move in.
“If we allow the residents of Mocha to determine whether or not we relocate these people there, then every area and every village in Guyana will have to determine who comes next to them and government cannot allow that. They are Guyanese!” she argued. “There is an urgent need for lands, [and the] lands [are] next to Mocha. Mocha was not selected for any special reason… I don’t know what is the reason for the discrimination because Guyanese are Guyanese and we cannot discriminate against people,” she added.
Chairman of the NDC Rudolph Adams told Stabroek News last week following a protest mounted by the squatters, that while the council empathises with the residents, “the community that we represent must be our first concern.”
“We are a local government body listening to our constituents. We were elected by them. We have advocated at the level of the ministry that there are several areas more accessible than the area chosen where these persons can be relocated. We have also said we are open to taking some of these persons but they are asking us to take too many,” Adams said.
Residents had suggested that the ministry move the squatters to different communities.
According to the minister, following an engagement with the NDC, it was agreed that of 72 homes that will be built, 15 be given to the less fortunate families of Mocha.
She added that 23 acres of land at Plantation Prosperity were divided into a 184 house lots. Residents of Mocha who had applied for lands would be given priority upon allocation of the lots.
In addition, she said that the community would be able to benefit from enhanced drainage and irrigation, roads, bridges and utilities.
Some $43 million is to be spent for the construction of the 72 homes, while $30 million will be spent on infrastructure development. It was explained during the press conference that Food for the Poor would also inject $43 million into the project.
Meanwhile, Senior Community Officer at the CH&PA Donell Bess-Bascom explained that the agency is working with governmental and non-governmental organisations as part of their relocation and integration progamme. She said that they received the support from the Ministry of Social Cohesion, which would give support in organising activities, such as a cohesion-building workshop, which teaches the appreciation of cultures and acceptance. She noted that the ministry is also exploring the hosting of sporting activities.
Bess-Bascom added that they are also working along with the ministries of Public Health and Public Security to increase the manpower at the constituency’s health centre and police outpost, respectively.
“The Ministry of Public Health committed to increasing their staff populace as needed at the Mocha Health Centre as well as improving the quality of health care in the community at the health centre and we have engaged [the] Public Security Ministry and they have indicated that they are willing to increase the capacity of the police outpost and if there is a need to upgrade the outpost to a station based on their policy,” she noted.
Other organisations are also working with the CH&PA to facilitate a smooth transition.
Bess-Bascom further explained that the work by the respective organisation would continue after the relocation is completed and would also benefit residents of Mocha/Arcadia.
As a result of a court judgment, Minister Patterson-Yearwood said that the CH&PA had to find a place to relocate the squatters. The court had awarded judgment in favour of the owners of the property currently occupied by squatters. “And the government could not stand by and allow those persons to be evicted… thrown out on the streets without anywhere to go,” the minister said.