Dear Editor: Who will investigate ‘squatter kingpins’ who are making millions at State’s expense?

EPL Properties Ltd

“[…] It is alleged that a new type of squatting has emerged in Trinidad and Tobago that is really geared towards land grabbing. 

“They are now known as the land-grabbing ‘kingpins,’ who end up owning prime land all over this country in key spots, for financial gain and not because they are going through economic hardship. This is very concerning and one has to ask how this is so rampant now…”

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to Wired868 by Neil Gosine, a former chairman of the National Petroleum Marketing Company of Trinidad and Tobago:

Photo: Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Kazim Hosein.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2020)

The Land Settlement Agency (LSA), Commissioner of State Lands and the Agriculture Ministry don’t seem to have a handle on the squatters’ situation in this country, as some newspaper reports claim there has been an increase in squatting during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, various sectors of our society are referring to 2021 as ‘the year of the squatter’.

It is alleged that a new type of squatting has emerged in Trinidad and Tobago that is really geared towards land grabbing. They are now known as the land-grabbing ‘kingpins,’ who end up owning prime land all over this country in key spots, for financial gain and not because they are going through economic hardship. 

This is very concerning and one has to ask how this is so rampant now. There are certain hotspots in the country where there seems to be a rush of people going to squat, such as in Sangre Grande and Valencia. This has also been occurring especially where the Cumuto-Manzanilla Highway is being built. 

Photo: The Cumoto/Manzanilla Highway.
(via Trinidad Express)

There seems to be a lot of people, allegedly even high-ranking people close to the current Government, who are going into these areas—rushing into them for commercial reasons rather than the normal hardship reasons where poor people have to resort to squatting. 

Recent reports suggest this is a growing phenomenon, and although the Acting Commissioner of State Lands, Bhanmati Seecharan, is aware of this, they are not equipped to deal with squatting on private lands in particular and furthermore, this is out of the remit of her office and the LSA.

The main point that seems to be missing the scrutiny of the media is that under the law, the LSA has a very narrow remit. They only consider certain sites named in the Act. 

Under the law, squatter structures cannot be demolished while people are living in them. Very often, people seem to be aware of these dormant structures which were initially unoccupied and then suddenly become occupied during the seven-day period in which squatters are formally told to leave. 

Photo: Squatters have rights too…

The court normally rules in favour of those people if any attempt is made to evict them.

No one seems to be asking the right questions or paying attention to the Caroni land and the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) land. These are being targeted by squatters together with private lands by these squatter ‘kingpins’ to get ownership of these properties. 

This is another get-rich scheme involving State and private lands, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, and although the Opposition and their Senators, such as Jayanti Lutchmedial, have called for investigations into the sale, lease and theft of Caroni lands by contractors and government financiers, their calls go virtually unnoticed by the media and the powers that be. 

The great Caroni, which was shut down in August 2003, once boasted of having 76,608 acres of land as well as milling/processing facilities, a sugar house, a research centre, beach houses, golf courses and many prime bungalows scattered across the sugar belt.

Photo: Acting Commissioner of State Lands Bhanmati Seecharan.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2019)

The Opposition is alleging that since the company closed there has been increased action by specific contractors and large business people who are encroaching on these lands to enrich themselves while thousands of workers and their dependents, who worked in the sugar industry, continue to face hard times and have never been given lands promised to them. 

The Commissioner of State Lands has complained bitterly about the under-resourcing of their department, the unwillingness of regional corporations to assist with demolitions and to provide support. However, one pertinent question comes to mind and that is, how much of the Caroni lands has been pilfered since the company closed? 

The allegations keep coming but no one is investigating. This seems to be a clear case of discrimination, corruption and nepotism.

This is perhaps why Caroni lands are more attractive to squatters as opposed to LSA-designated squatting sites. 

Photo: Land for sale in Caroni.

Sometimes I wonder if investigative journalism has died in this country. Have the media become afraid to ask difficult questions of this Government?

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