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Moonilal: Squatting on State lands still illegal

By Richardson Dhalai Wednesday, February 2 2011

Reiterating that the Commissioner of State lands possesses the authority to demolish illegal structures on State lands, Housing and the Environment Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal, has signalled his intention to raise the “unlawful conduct” of the Land Settlement Agency, (LSA), under the previous administration in Parliament.

In a High Court ruling last Friday, Justice Carol Gobin ruled that the LSA did not have the lawful authority to demolish the houses of persons on State lands, and that the sole authority with the necessary legal framework rested with the Commissioner of State Lands.

The ruling also rejected a Cabinet note, (detailed in Cabinet Minute no. 2095 of May 11, 206), in which the previous PNM Administration gave the LSA the legal authority to demolish homes saying “a Cabinet note cannot authorise the usurpation of the power of the Commissioner of State lands.”

Speaking to reporters yesterday following the launch of the International Year of Forests 2011 and World Wetlands Day 2011 at the Caroni Swamp Visitor Centre, Caroni, Moonilal, when asked to comment on illegal squatting in the nation’s wetlands said, the Ministry was also “looking at squatting on wetlands which poses a threat not only to the citizens themselves, but to our wetlands.”

“On that note I want to indicate again that the recent judgment by Justice Gobin last Friday on the LSA matter, that judgment in no way condones illegal squatting. In no way makes squatting legal,” Moonilal emphasised..

“ That dealt specifically with the LSA being used as a tool to demolish structures on State lands during the period 2002-2010,” he said, adding that the Commissioner of State lands possessed the “legal authority to demolish dwelling sites by squatters occupying land illegally and that continues.”

“What is regrettable is, over the years, incidentally, under the current Opposition Leader, who was then Minister of Housing, Dr (Keith), Rowley, took a note to Cabinet and advised Cabinet to take a decision that led to the unlawful conduct of the Land Settlement Agency,” he said.

“It’s a matter I intend to raise in Parliament as well,” Moonilal said though he did not indicate when the matter would be raised in Parliament. There are an estimated 300,000 squatters in Trinidad and Tobago.

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