100 squatters occupying State lands get statutory leases
Senator the Honourable Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries (left), shares a light moment with a recipient during a Statutory Lease Distribution Ceremony hosted by the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) at the Government Campus Plaza in Port of Spain on Friday 20th July, 2018 (Photo: Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries)
One hundred squatters have been granted statutory leases from the Land Settlement Agency (LSA), giving them legal rights to the State land they once illegally occupied.
The leases were distributed during a ceremony at the Government Campus Plaza, Richmond Street, Port of Spain on Friday.
The granting of the leases is part of the government's squatter regularisation initiative which has seen a number of squatters granted Certificates of Comfort (COC).
However, the COC only protects the occupier of the land from being evicted but gives them no legal rights to the land.
With the statutory leases, the occupier has legal ownership of the land which they must pay for through a mortgage-like arrangement.
Several squatting settlements have been developed by the LSA and upgraded with drainage, utilities and other infrastructure and the persons occupying the land must now pay for their lots.
The lots are however being sold at the subsidised price of 25 percent of the market value.
Chief Executive Officer of the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) Hazar Hosein explained that some of the squatters will pay just $60,000 for lots that are valued between $300,000 and $400,000.
They will have 30 years to pay off the sum.
Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat told those receiving statutory leases that they had been given something of great value.
“You got something today that can bring a lot of value to your family, your life and is one of the most important pieces of document you will own,” he said.
However, Rambharat warned that persons occupying protected lands or forest reserves would be dealt with and would not be regularised.
He said there were thousands of people living on protected lands across the country.
In east Trinidad, he noted that 11 forest reserves have been occupied by squatters.
Rambharat said action will be taken against such persons.
“I am about to send some more matters to the Commissioner of Police for transmission to the Fraud Squad as we continue our work to deal with those who believe the assets of this country are theirs for private dealing, illegal dealing and corrupt dealing.”
But the Agriculture Minister said squatting is not only done by the less fortunate in society but even by senior public officers.
He said he discovered that retired public officials have been occupying government quarters for decades, passing it down to their families.
He said more than 400 government quarters, meant for persons employed by the government to utilise, have been occupied by people who have retired more than 20 years ago.
“Senior technocrats in the ministry are allowed to occupy quarters for the purpose of doing the work of the ministry and upon their retirement just continue to live there,” he said.
“I found in some cases four generations. One on Long Circular Road in Port of Spain, where land is $1500 per square foot, that person is living there on account of a relative who was a watchman and occupying the quarters since 1957. And across the country you will see former public servants and public officers and generations of their families occupying government quarters at your expense. They are no different than the squatters we are dealing with today.”
Rambharat said this matter must be dealt with.
“Those who occupy government quarters by virtue of their employment should do so and when the time comes for you to leave, you should be encouraged to leave and when the encouragement fails, you should be made to leave.”
Editor's note: The headline of this article has been amended to reflect that statutory leases, not Certificates of Comfort, were distributed at this event. Loop apologises for the misinformation.
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