After being forced to re-migrate due to the economic crisis in Venezuela, a family’s decision to erect housing on the government reserve at Jib, on the Essequibo Coast, has added to its woes as the regional administration demolished the structure.
Haimwattie Sooknandan, her husband and two young children, who recently returned to Guyana after having lived in Venezuela for the past ten years, were literally left without a roof over their heads on Monday.
Sooknandan told Stabroek News that her return to Guyana has not been an easy one and she was left to find housing for her family in wake of instructions allegedly given by the Regional Executive Officer (REO) Rupert Hopkinson to have their temporary housing demolished on the premise of it being on a government reserve.
When contacted, Hopkinson said that while he never ordered the demolition, the family had been warned on several occasions not to erect the structure since it would have been doing so on land that is considered government reserve. “Nobody wants to dislodge the family like this but she was spoken to on several occasions and was told she cannot build on that that land. I have received complaints from other residents in Jib about the construction and if you look at where she wanted to build, it is less than six feet away from a main drainage canal,” he said.
Sooknandan explained that her family’s move to the location came as a result of her and her husband being unable to secure jobs and struggling to pay the rent at their previous place of boarding.
She explained that sometime after, she spoke with one Balkarran Sooklall, a resident of Jib, who has been living on the land for the past 28 years. She said he had agreed to allow the family to temporarily construct a structure on a small portion of the land where he lives until it was in a better place.
It was noted that because they had no money, Sooknandan and her husband entered into an agreement with a businessman for $500,000 worth of building materials on the condition that they would make monthly installments until the materials are paid for.
It was explained that having gone through all the effort to procure the materials, they began building a small structure almost immediately.
However, Sooknandan stated that sometime last week, officials from the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), including the Deputy Regional Executive Officer, visited the area and started demolishing the structure. The family was told that instructions came from the Regional Executive Officer Rupert Hopkinson.
“Them nah bring no paper, nothing… they said that the REO tell them to bruk down the house and carry away the material,” the woman said.
She further noted that she reached out to both the chairman of the Neighbourhood Democratic Council and the Regional Chairman and had even met with Hopkinson on Monday morning and he maintained that he did not order the demolition.
“He tell we that he never tell nobody to bruk down anything. That he only tell police to warn we but no police never came to we until the day the people come to demolish the place,” Sooknandan said. “Them come and they pull down everything and damage all the material that we ain’t pay for yet. Me ain’t got nowhere to put me head tonight, me in got a cent and me in got nowhere to go,” she added.
But Hopkinson told this newspaper that he even at one point in time offered to work with the Central and Housing Planning Authority to help the family acquire land elsewhere since he empathised with its predicament.
“I will make sure that she gets the materials back and I am prepared to work with the ministry to assist her in getting the land she needs,” he told Stabroek News.
Responding to Sooknandan’s claims that others have been occupying the same area for the last 40 plus years without any intervention from the regional administration or any other agency, Hopkinson said that the occupation of the land by those residents would have occurred under the previous government. He added that by allowing her to erect the structure, it would interfere with the precedent set regarding squatting on government reserves, which is not something he is willing to do. “It is regrettable what happened but she provoked and refused to listen to a matter of policy that does not allow squatting,” he said.