Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 17th 2015 Contents A5
May 17, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
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Squatters residing on protected
areas will be removed.
This news comes from Minister of
Land and Marine Resources Jairam
Seemungal four days after Prime Min-
ister Kamla Persad-Bissessar s
announcement on Monday that the
People s Partnership Government would
regularise all squatters, if given a second
term in office.
Seemungal said while it would be a
humongous task to regularise the exist-
ing 60,000 squatters, some of whom
have been living on state lands for as
long as 60 years, squatters who had
encroached on natural, ecological and
cultural lands would have to be
removed, as the Government intended
to conserve these areas at all cost.
There are approximately 350 squat-
ting sites in T&T, Seemungal said.
Areas with the highest squatting
populations are Toco/Sangre Grande
and Point Fortin.
On Friday, Seemungal said his min-
istry was working in tandem with the
Environmental Management Authority
(EMA) to have these squatters uprooted
While the ministry has been trying
to tally how many squatters are living
on protected areas and the acreage they
are occupying, Seemungal said "where
the EMA and Forestry Division does
not give approval on these lands, we
will try to find a formula to have them
Seemungal said it would be difficult
to remove some squatters who had
encroached on forest reserve lands.
He cited one community at Pine Set-
tlement in Sangre Grande, which is
regarded as an environmentally sensitive
area, that would not be touched, since
millions of dollars had been spent on
infrastructural development under the
then People s National Movement
"It would be difficult to move them
from this protected area because roads,
drainage and electricity have already
been provided to this community,"
Melajo, Northern Range
and Valencia---areas squatters
should not be living
Seemungal listed Melajo, the North-
ern Range and Valencia as areas where
squatters should not be residing.
Chairman of the EMA Dr Allan
Bachan identified the Aripo Savannas
in Valencia, Nariva and the Caroni
Bird Sanctuary as protected areas
squatters have invaded.
"Those are protected areas. Squat-
ters should not be there in the first
place. Those are the three areas that
I can remember off the top of my
head that I could tell you we have a
problem with. The squatters are also
doing farming inside these protected
areas, which should not be taking
place," Bachan said.
Since the State is the landlord of
63 per cent of the country s land,
Seemungal said he often wondered
about the role of the Forestry Division
which had more powers than the
Commissioner of State Lands to bring
lawbreakers before the courts.
"[The Forestry Division s] powers
is that they can take people before
the court for chopping or burning
down a tree, whereas the Commis-
sioner of State Lands has to serve
notice on parties and then wait for
the matter to come before the court."
To ensure that squatters do not
encroach on natural, ecological and
cultural lands, Seemungal said the
ministry had taken before the Leg-
islative Review Committee draft con-
"That would come before the Par-
liament some time soon. It is in its
final stage," Seemungal said.
Commenting on the moves to reg-
ularise all squatters, Seemungal said
the process would involve two
stages---the distribution of certificates
of comfort (COC) followed by the
awarding of leases, which would have
to be worked out in the coming
He denied that the PM s announce-
ment to regularise the squatters was
a ploy to woo votes for the upcoming
election, stating that people needed
stability in their lives.
LSA destroyed 700 unoccupied
houses in five years
In the last five years, Seemungal said,
the Government had distributed over
7,000 COCs and granted leases to 50
The Land Settlement Agency (LSA)
also destroyed 700 unoccupied struc-
Last year, Seemungal said, the min-
istry took digital imagery of all the
The ministry recently purchased a
drone, which has the capacity to do
aerial photography on all squatting sites
in a matter of days.
"We will be using the drone on a
regular basis to fly over all the squatting
sites and take out digital photographs
which will be coded and used by the
ministry to ensure that squatting is
contained. If the imagery shows that
a new house is in the process of being
erected or has been erected, the Com-
missioner of State Lands will move in
to have it demolished."
Squatters on protected
areas to be evicted
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From Page A3
The Sunday Guardian
learned that in 2011, the
siphoning of funds was done
using a procedure "which was
not standard for the confir-
mation and validation of NEC
wire transfers" from the NEC.
Despite not being responsible,
the NEC has put measures in
place to ensure that this
siphoning of funds does not
In an email interview with
NEC management, they con-
firmed that even though the
wire transfers were "fraudu-
lently prepared outside
National Energy s internal
processing system," the com-
pany had implemented the
Implementation of an
electronic funds transfer sys-
tem for foreign payments
Improved security and
controls over documents,
records, information and
Strengthening of physical
security and access controls
to the Finance and Accounting
Requirement that NEC
president approve all pay-
ments greater than
The NEC is also denying
media reports that one of its
messengers participated in the
fraudulent siphoning of funds.
"The individual who present-
ed the forged documents to First
Citizens was not an employee
or agent of National Energy and
is unknown to the Company,"
the NEC executives said.
They also said that the
company had no information
on the contents or details of
any invoice for food or condi-
ments before the fraudulent
transactions were executed.
"None of the recipients of
the fraudulent transfers were
or have ever been a vendor,
contractor, creditor, employee,
or agent or had ever been in
any way affiliated with
National Energy," the compa-
ny seniors said.
measures in place to
stop siphoning at NEC
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley first ventilated the
missing funds during a PNM platform meeting at the Larry
Gomes Stadium on May 7. At that meeting, Rowley noted that
current Finance Minister Larry Howai was at the helm of both
organisations when the fraudulent wire transfers were done.
Rowley revealed then the details of an Interpol-led
investigation into how $60 million had been siphoned from
the NEC through an account at First Citizens. Rowley
criticised Howai for lauding his own tenure at First Citizens
during a parliamentary session, saying that he never raised
the NEC money loss issue. Howai subsequently responded
that because he straddled both organisations, he stepped
aside and requested that two other senior executives take
over the investigation at each company.
The LSA is authorised under the
State Land Regularisation of
Tenure Act number 25 of 1998 to
prevent and contain further
squatting on state lands 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,
and applied for a COC before 2000.
DR ALLAN BACHAN
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