Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Housing
(Aired 17 September 2002)

   A few nights ago I saw minister Baksh on CNS 6 being interviewed by my buddy C.N. Sharma, now ladies and gentlemen I think that CN is doing a service to the poor folk in this country, but since he is a competitor of VCT 28, I have been very restrained in what I have said about him or his channel or about any other channel for that matter. The talk show hosts etc. being an example, they are my competitors for advertisements and it would be wrong for me to do so.

    Before I address Mr. Baksh's matter, let me say this, there are few people I respect more than Kit Nascimento when it comes to journalism, Broadcasting and its regulations, but I saw him on one of Christopher Ram's plain talk shows some months ago discussing the Cane Grove fiasco and he clearly had not seen the BK contract and what Tiwari warranted to do on the conservancy dam. Shame on you Kit.

     I do not interview anyone on television, I have refused to do it and I have to tell you that the list of persons who have requested me to do so is very long, and includes the president of this country. I have refused requests to appear on almost all talk shows. I sometimes let The Evening News people interview me, either because I have something to say on a particular matter or they want my opinion on some issue and it is after all my newscast, the public also seem to like it, and if I can help them to make my newscast more informative, I do.

    There are few people in this country that can conduct a proper in depth television interview, and restrict the person being interviewed from bringing in all sorts of irrelevancies and straying from the focus of the interview, especially if that person happens to be a high functioning politician.

    Some months ago I observed Ms. Gitalangi Singh from the Stabroek News interviewing Minister Kowlessar and she asked him who the members of the GOINVEST board were, and the man was not able to name even one member, now were it I, Gitangali, I would have had to point out to the honorable Minister that it is completely unacceptable for him not to know who the members of GOINVEST were, he is after all our Minister of Finance, a position which is costing this nation a lot of money and he is clearly not competent to perform those functions, and war would have broken out right there on the set, because Minister or not I would not have let him off the hook. But the point was well made; he did not know who was on the GOINVEST board.     

    She nevertheless conducted a good interview otherwise. One of the few who can, it is a pity that she does not work in Television.

    That is why I do not do interviews; I would not tolerate any of the nonsense I see being peddled on the public by our public officials being interviewed by people who have not studied their subject matter or understand the real issues, some of these politicians even give you a list of questions THEY want you to ask them before they allow themselves to be interviewed.

    Now I will address the subject matter of this commentary.

    The national development strategy which was prepared by civil society and which was financed by the Carter centre and tabled in out parliament last year 2001 tells us that quote "the housing situation in Guyana is desperate, there is strong evidence of insecure tenure and increasing levels of homelessness"

    We are also told that only 60 percent of the population own their houses, and that the cost of building a house in Guyana is relatively high compared to income, the reason is mainly because Guysuco and the government together own about 90 percent of the available land around the towns on the coastal strip of the country. As a result of this virtual monopoly in land ownership, the cost of land is generally out of reach of ordinary folk, and the private sector is in great part inhibited from engaging meaningfully in house construction.

    A consequence of this preponderance of government land ownership is the fact that a not insignificant proportion, twenty percent, of households in Guyana are forced to squat or illegally occupy government owned lands. I will not go into specifics of the other areas addressed by the strategy, inadequate funding in the housing section, moribund [ridiculous] methods of transferring land titles, an extremely slow distribution and development process and seemingly political interference in land distribution.

    So C.N. decides to interview Baksh, he has a fistful of dynamite at his disposal, footage of completely aggrieved and angry citizens telling all sorts of horror stories about their condition, the facts are recorded in the NDS but CN does not know how to use them, the specific issue is that there are some people squatting at Good Hope and Baksh wants them to move, so that he can regularize the area. My question is this, these people who were forced to squat because of a land allocation system which is completely unacceptable, must now move and take not only their belongings but the materials that now constitute the structures they are living in and sit, presumably on the road, and wait for Baksh to allocate them land somewhere else?

  Does Mr. Baksh know that in India for example after a landmark case last year, he would be breaking legal precedent which is also applicable to Guyana since precedent form the Indian courts are acceptable here in Guyana. In India, ladies and gentlemen the high court in Bombay has now declared it unjust to remove a squatter unless you offer him an alternative, BEFORE he is required to move from the area in which he is squatting.

   Mr. Baksh also proudly proclaims that his government is charging 58 thousand dollars for a house lot, he wants them to pay down 19 thousand and the other 39 thousand is payable within one year, so CN the first question has to be this, when these persons pay down the 19 thousand will the minister transfer title to them so that they can use it as collateral to obtain loans to pay the other 39 thousand dollars?

     The second question is, where will these poor people find 39 thousand in one year to pay for land which is their national heritage anyway. The Demerara sugar estates, totaling around 50 thousand acres GUYSUCO tells us, are or will be uneconomical in a few short years, so why not release it to the people who own it, now, when they need it. Housing does not require 50 thousand acres Mr. Baksh, two thousand acres can settle the entire matter.   As Guyanese these people own this land Baksh, not you. Furthermore the strategy tells us that these lands your government is distributing are at best very poorly developed as having proper infrastructure for housing. The people of Good Hope have one hope, go to the court as a group find the Indian legal precedent get an injunction and refuse to move.

  Ladies and gentlemen the strategy tells us that the absence of adequate mortgage facilities and high interest rates at the commercial banks preclude many low income persons in the nation from owning a home.

   Was this Dr. Jagan's vision of a nation which would address the problems and the needs of the poor and the dispossessed in this country? I don't think so, you people are really incredible Mr. Baksh, you say one thing but you do something completely different, and the people I saw on C.N's programme were your own PPP constituents. The people at the Goed Fortune squatting area, also all Indian, know that I do not speak with a forked tongue, they squatted there on our private lands, and we the Vieira Family, on my recommendation, decided to give it to them in 1978 they were not required to pay us one cent.

   Finally ladies and gentlemen the IMF has just approved a 73 Million US dollar loan over the next three years to alleviate poverty in this nation, this money is not supposed to buy Prados Baksh, or to award contracts to poorly qualified persons, who waste this nations money doing substandard work, it is supposed to be used to help the poor, I wonder how much of it ever will. Leave the people at Good Hope alone Mr. Baksh, develop some land elsewhere, and when you do, offer it to them, only then will I sympathize with you, if they do not move.