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Land ahoy

Thursday, May 23 2013

Amidst the sound and fury of recent political scandals comes good news for disadvantaged citizens who could not previously afford to buy land at current market prices and who through the Ministry of Housing and the Land Settlement Agency have an opportunity now to purchase a residential lot on which to build their homes.

The first draw of the 500 who will have a chance to buy a lot took place on Tuesday and the distribution was supervised by officials of the accounting firm Ernst and Young. We applaud the transparency in this process of selection of successful applicants. Past selection processes have been cloaked in secrecy and under former administrations houses were more often than not distributed on the basis of party affiliation. This draw was public, supervised and televised and the Government is to be congratulated on its efforts to be open and fair.

“In keeping with the distribution policy we had formulated and agreed I immediately mandated the honourable minister to ensure that all citizens regardless of any creed or race had an equal opportunity to benefit from these lots. The result is a public draw the very first of its kind in the history of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Prime Minister said at the draw, in an effort to dispel the perception that lots were being given out to party members and supporters and to distance her party from opaque past practices.

We also laud the establishment of a dedicated Housing Support Centre under the LSA that will provide the impetus for the construction of affordable homes. According to the PM, the LSA will give the technical assistance and guidance to beneficiaries. Its services will include standardising house plans at minimum cost; providing architects to help families plan and design their houses, particularly to permit easy extensions in the future; bringing in quantity surveyors to assist with cost estimates required by the TTMF and other financial institutions. The centre will “provide linkages with small contractors and builders and will offer training facilities to these persons wishing to participate in the programme.”

The Prime Minister has described the programme as one of her administration’s signature and creative endeavours to address the housing problem facing Trinidad. It certainly has been well planned and if executed as promised will prove a huge success. However, we must point out that there were 41,000 people who applied for lots, which means that not all the Prime Minister’s “families without land or shelter and living in extreme and difficult circumstances can benefit from the programme.” Does the land for the landless programme intend to select 500 applicants every year or every few years? This point warrants clarification.

The Prime Minister seems undaunted by the sheer number of applications. Her view is optimistic — 500 recipients of lots is a resounding success for her Government. “My advice to Dr Moonilal and his team is: Do not be overwhelmed by the huge database of applicants. Consider every single housing solution you provide to a citizen as a meaningful fulfillment of your responsibility,” she said on Tuesday.

Perhaps she is right. Trinidad and Tobago as many other countries faces a critical shortage of housing, as evidenced by the innumerable squatter communities many of which today hold not galvanise and wooden structures but two storied concrete houses. Five hundred is a small fraction of 41,000 but it shows that the regime is working creatively and diligently to bring hope and change little by little.

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