Certificates of comfort are worthless, said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi at the sod-turning ceremony for the Bayshore Housing Project in Marabella on Friday morning.
He described Bayshore as being “99 per cent a squatting community.”
Of his efforts to improve it, he said: “What we did in this community, as the AG, I looked at the way I could actually organise land ownership. Not by something called a certificate of comfort, a certificate of comfort is worthless.
“So how do you fix that? You survey the land. We went back to the land in this area, approximately 100 years, we went to the land pics of TT, we looked at every piece of land right here. Was it under cultivation, under occupation?”
He said a social survey was then completed for each member of the community.
This project was the result of years of hard work, he said, which the residents should not take for granted.
In response, the residents Bayshore cheered and agreed with Al-Rawi, the San Fernando West PNM candidate, when he said no other MP has done as much as he has for the constituency.
He said 40 acres of land have been allotted to the project, and that this batch of 150 will use five of those. He said it should take approximately six months for this phase to be completed.
Thirty of these two-storey “starter homes” have already been built and he said he is expecting 400 to be completed in total.
The occupants will first be granted a three-year tenancy lease, which will then be upgraded to 99 years.
Al-Rawi said the people of Bayshore had been “living in invisibility.
“We are churning out (university) graduates, we have so many people who are qualified but are unemployed. We have tradesmen, we have people that are farmers – and this community has some wonderful farmers – we have fishermen, contractors, national rugby players, scholarship winners.
Our community has it all. But our community which is comprised of nearly 2,000-plus (sic) people, have been living as invisible people.
“If you do not own the land that you sit on, you are invisible to the government; you are invisible to the bank, because the bank cannot take your property to give you a loan; you are invisible to (the National) Self-help (Commission), because Self-help needs to have proof of ownership or land occupation. Social services, early childhood education.
“Now how can a responsible MP witness 2,200 people live for 60 years-plus in invisibility?”
He said the decision to build two-storey houses was because of issues such as flooding and leaves room for development and expansion.
“You need a solid foundation, electricity, road access, water, sewerage, you need to be visible to TT. This does not happen by the snap of a finger. You have to survey, go to the bank, borrow the money, get the planning permission, award a contract…”
He said as MP, he was tasked with analysing the needs of the communities within the constituency by listening to the residents. It is this, he said, that allowed him to find solutions to their problems as he “got to know the people at their very core level.
“Until you get to where someone lives and you watch the condition that they live in and you watch the (available) opportunities of the people in the home…until you get there and understand that, you’re not really starting at the correct places.”
“You have seen MP after MP, you have seen government after government come and go.
“But what I can tell you is what you have never seen what we’re doing here today. Go down and watch the 30 other houses we build already, watch the works we did by Pakistan in the fishing village by that depot where we protect our fishermen…Look at the walkway being built across three highways, the roundabout that is being built in front Embacadere to allow us to access the highway, the road widening at the waterfront…
“We had a problem in this country: people could not think their way into starting. That’s the difference between me as your MP and every other government we have had.”
Continuing in ecampaigning mode, he said, “I want to ask something to the older folks in the audience: How many of you, knowing every MP since Errol Mahabir come forward, could tell you of an MP that has described to you what has been done, what is being done, and what will be done?
One resident shouted, “Nobody!” Another yelled, “Faris!”
He said Bayshore residents finally have a sense of hope for the first time, and the project will continue when – not if – he is re-elected as MP for the constituency.