THE Ministries of Housing and Agriculture, the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) and the Commissioner of State Lands, are working to deal with the issue of “squat lords.”
So said Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis on Friday.
The issue of “squat lords” was raised during a virtual meeting between members of Parliament’s Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities Committee, the LSA, Commissioner of State Lands, Housing and Agriculture Ministries on Wednesday The LSA and the Commissioner of State Lands fall under the remits of the Housing Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry respectively.
LSA CEO Hazar Hosein said from 2018 to April, the number of reported cases of squatting had dropped to just under 1,200. In contrast, the LSA recorded over 5,000 new squatting cases from 2013-2018.
But Hosein said “There are certain hotspot areas in the country where we have a rush of persons going to squat.”
He identified Sangre Grande and Valencia, especially where the Cumuto-Manzanilla Highway is being built, as some areas where this is happening.
“We have a term that we use: squat lords. A lot of these persons who are rushing into areas are rushing for commercial reasons rather than economic reasons.”
Robinson-Regis said, “The issue of the illegal occupation of state lands by persons who clear large swathes of land and then proceed to sell same to persons who erect dwellings illegally is particularly disturbing, especially as persons do so and establish unplanned and unauthorised settlements.”
The LSA, she continued, has reported that there are people who “participate in illegal activities to clear large areas of state lands, subdivide that land and then sell smaller pieces.” All of these are illegal activities. Robinson-Regis confirmed Hosein’s definition of these people as squat lords.
Other locations where squat lords are active include Antigua Road in Wallerfield and Bois Bande in Sangre Grande.
The Office of the Commissioner of State Lands has statutory authority under the State Lands Act to prevent squatting and encroachment on state lands and bring legal action against these perpetrators.
Security patrol officers attached to the LSA have been informing the Commissioner of State Lands about the activities of squat lords.
Robinson-Regis said the power of the commissioner to prevent squatting on state lands and take legal action against the perpetrators is reinforced by a January 2011 High Court ruling in the matter of Vida Balkissoon vs the LSA.
“As I have said, the State Lands Act and ths court matter provide for summary proceedings before any magistrate to secure possession of state lands to only be brought by the Commissioner (of State Lands).”
Robinson-Regis saidt she is in discussion with the LSA to determine how best to work with the Agriculture Ministry and the Commissioner of State Lands “to bring an end to this illegal activity of blatant theft of state lands.”