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Workmen at a construction site on Wellington Road, Debe, yesterday, on the first day of new stay-at-home measures, under which construction workers are considered non-essential.

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Landgrabbers have been given a warning that they will face prosecution and fines if they use the COVID-19 stay-at-home period to build illegal structures on State land.

This after police went to a construction site at Wellington Road, Debe and ordered a builder to cease all construction.

When Guardian Media visited the scene several Venezuelan labourers and three locals were doing work on the site. The Venezuelans took cover when the Guardian began filming. One of the local men shouted, “No pictures. Don’t take no pictures here.”

Asked by this reporter whether he had permission to build on the land, the man said “yes.” When asked for his name and phone number so the Guardian can verify, the man said, “999. Go call that.”

Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat who was contacted said the matter will be investigated immediately.

“I have asked the Commissioner of State Land to take immediate action. People use long weekends and holidays to do these things,” he said.

He added, “I was at the Rio Claro Food Crop project yesterday. I saw a house construction that I reported since July 2018 when the land was being cut, now a complete dwelling that is occupied. I have to ensure that the person is removed.”

Chairman of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation, Dr Allen Sammy said the lands which are directly opposite the University of the West Indies, Penal/ Debe campus was valuable and should be used to boost local tourism. The lands have been under siege from land grabbers over the past decade when the construction of the University began.

Sammy said he wanted the strip of land from Debe to Picton to be used for the establishment of parks, food huts and recreation.

“We can develop that area so that the students who come to the university can use it for kayaking and recreation,” he added. The strip of land was once used to cultivate sugar cane but after Caroni-1975 Limited closed down in 2003, landgrabbers started erecting structures and barricading parcels using galvanize and other material.

Sammy said the PDRC will be checking to see if the latest land occupier had any right to be there.

MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal also said he has launched his own investigations.

“I intend to verify what the folks are doing and if legal, demand that they postpone work until after the lockdown period. Residential home construction is non-essential and risks putting members of the public in great danger. I warn land grabbers that we will not hesitate to alert the police and officers of the office of Commissioner of State lands. Apart from the illegal activity of land grabbing they are in defiance of the order to stay home and that recklessness is intolerable and unacceptable,” Moonilal added.

Minister of Local Government Kazim Hosein said his municipal police officers will be on the lookout for people who flout the COVID-19 regulations which will last for 14 days. He said anyone who contravenes the regulations will face the full brunt of the law.