Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan yesterday warned squatters of Pine Settlement, Sangre Grande, that they had no claim to seek compensation when Government acquires State land for the $400 million Cumuto to Manzanilla Highway project.
Sinanan made the comment in response to Monday’s T&T Guardian front page article headlined Land Bobol, which highlighted a rush of new squatters at Pine Settlement, who were erecting concrete structures in the direct pathway of the proposed Cumuto/Manzanilla Highway project.
The article also spoke about squatters encroaching on private lands at Wharton Estate, Salybia and State land at Galera Road, leading to the Toco Lighthouse. The highway project is expected to open up the entire northeastern region with business activity and generate jobs.
The issue was raised by Sangre Grande Regional Corporation chairman Terry Rondon, as he called on the Government to do something fast to stem the tide as he admitted the issue of squatting in the northeastern region was out of control.
Rondon said the news of the Toco Port has led to a proliferation of squatters moving in on State and private lands.
Speaking on CNC3's Morning Brew programme on Monday, Sinanan said: “I don’t think this (squatting) started to happen with the announcement of the port in Toco.”
He said from Valencia as far as Balandra squatting has been in existence for years but was now growing.
Sinanan said Sangre Grande has the largest concentration of squatters in the country.
In 2016, the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) told a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that there were 55,000 families squatting in the country. This amounted to over 200,000 people overall.
The LSA estimated that Sangre Grande has between 7,000 to 10,000 squatting families.
“It’s simply because it’s a lot of free land that does not flood...we have had a challenge with squatters in that area for quite a while. Unfortunately, what we see happening up there now is that on the route to the highway...we do have a challenge now with squatters.”
Sinanan said the LSA is authorised under the State Land Regularisation of Tenure Act, No 25 of 1998, to prevent and contain further squatting on State land and to regularise eligible existing squatters.
A person who is eligible for regularisation must have occupied a dwelling house on the property prior to January 1, 1998.
“If you come on the land after that (January 1, 1998) you will be removed. You have no right to be on the land. So the Government would not be paying anybody for any land that is State land.”
In addition, Sinanan said a squatter who builds on State land would not be entitled to any claim or compensation by the Government.
“Whoever thinks that they are going to get money from the Government for squatting on State land, that is on the path of the highway, they would not be compensated. It’s simple as that because you know you are doing a wrong.”