The chairman of the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) has called for the authorities to clamp down on indiscriminate squatting.
Ossley Francis was speaking at the distribution ceremony of certificates of comfort, statutory leases and deeds of lease on Tuesday morning at Naparima Bowl in San Fernando.
He said too many people are squatting on both state and private lands, and urged for the law to be amended. The Land Tenants (Security of Tenure) Act only applies to people who applied for regularisation before October 27, 2000.
Francis said, “We are a lawless society. People just like to do what they want.
"There are about 50,000 people squatting on state lands, and about 20,000 people on private lands.
“They go anywhere they see a piece of land and claim they want relief and help. This is the kind of society we live in and have to treat with.”
Francis said the LSA’s authority lies with regularisation and the Commissioner of State Lands has a mandate to fulfil.
“The Commissioner of State Lands is responsible for all state lands and should treat with lawless squatting.
“The LSA can only regulate and regularise squatting in designated areas. We can also develop infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity, drains, bridges and so forth.”
Francis also blamed a lack of staff for the delayed distribution, which in many cases exceeded over 20 years.
“The LSA is a short-staffed agency, and it is a lot of work to process the applications and do assessments in a timely manner. We apologise for this,” he said.
The distribution was done by the LSA, which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Housing and Development. Over 140 people were given certificates for lands between Caroni to South Trinidad.
Minister of Housing and Development Edmund Dillon reminded the recipients that the certificate of comfort gives a squatter a personal right to protection from being ejected from state land. He added that it does not give a squatter any right, legal interest or title to the land.
Patricia Gibson, 65, of Diamond Village said she was thrilled to get her certificate.
Gibson, who lives alone, said “I have been on that piece of land since 1989, and I am happy today to have something that I can begin to start to develop.”
Others expressed similar sentiments.