Turning back the clock
Kaieteur News
February 27, 2007

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The race to prepare Guyana for visitors has seen the installation of street lighting where none existed; the preparation of ducts and conduits for traffic lights where previously the roads were merely free-for-alls and the scenes of too numerous traffic accidents; and a general enhancement programme that has transformed portions of the city to near pristine glory.

Road surfaces have been dramatically improved and locations cleared of any encumbrances. One major result of the city enhancement programme is the clearing of the area outside Stabroek Market. Such has been the situation that the ordinary people have expressed a desire to see that area of the city perpetually cleared of any encumbrance.

That location was a haven for vendors of just about everything under the sun, and for some things that could have landed the vendors in prison for long stretches.

Then there were those whose primary purpose was to relieve people of their precious assets. These were the thieves and the robbers. There were also those who made it a habit of buying stolen property. They all occupied that area outside Stabroek Market largely because a hive of humanity frequented that area.

People travelling to the different parts of the city and country were forced to congregate there, and many have had harrowing tales to tell. They were the victims, and on a number of occasions there were people who became repeat victims.

Those days appear to have disappeared into the past. The area has been cleared and people can now see the beauty of the Stabroek Market, one of the classic structures and famous landmarks in the country.

But it was not easy to clear that market square. Some people had been there for as long as two decades, to the extent they were contemplating seeking prescriptive rights to ply their trade there. This did not materialise, because no one could successfully gain prescriptive titles to a public thoroughfare.

But there are other areas that need to be cleaned up simply because the authorities allowed things to get out of hand. We often ignore small developments or happenings, and soon the time comes when these small things reach out of proportion. One example is the squatter settlement that has developed on the railway embankment along Lamaha Street .

The initial order was that those who farmed along the embankment would be allowed to construct a shelter so that they could monitor their crops during the day and perhaps guard them at nights. Permanent housing emerged and escaped attention, eventually reaching the stage where criminal elements decided that the area suited them just fine.

Drug pushers with no intention of living among society moved there. School children also found the area to be a good location to escape detection when they played truants. In fact, we still remember the schoolboy who faked his kidnapping. He chose the squatter settlements there, and found willing allies.

Squatter settlements sprang up in just about every section of the city under similar conditions. Today, they are more or less permanent settlements and any one trying to remove them would have a torrid time. We saw what happened when City Hall attempted to clear the drains. The residents came out in force and almost prevented the machinery from using the reserves, which had become residential areas.

If we are to present the city to our visitors in a positive light, we may consider removing those who have, from time to time, indicated that they only lived there because they could not find alternative accommodation.

A church sprang up there, and when people in the established areas voiced their complaints at the noise nuisance, the pastor dared to defend his location and his operation.

It has long been known that, while we have laws, we are lax when it comes to enforcing these, and people simply take notice of our weaknesses and capitalise on them. The government has signalled that it is bent on correcting past indiscretions, and it has started with the vendors outside Stabroek Market.

The fact that road repairs became necessary provided an ample excuse to remove the people. The Local Government Minister has said that they would be removed permanently. Similar action needs to be taken in other areas.

And at this moment, some nurses who thought that they had done a great job in preserving their environment are now fighting to prevent the establishment of a squatter settlement in their midst. Their problem is that the new squatter settlement has the sanction of the authorities.