By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government's shanty town committee will soon present an action plan to deal with the longstanding problem, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, who said the issue will be handled humanely.
Mr Foulkes is a part of the 30-member committee, comprised of representatives from various government departments, ministries and law enforcement agencies. The group is expected to tour each shanty town identified and consult interested parties before taking action.
Once done, Mr Foulkes said he will make an official communication to the Senate, followed by a press conference, where the committee will unveil its timeline and plan of action.
According to preliminary reports by the new committee, there are a total of 11 shanty towns in New Providence: eight in the southwest of the island and the remaining three in the eastern district.
Additionally, the government is aware of four shanty town communities in Grand Bahama and several in North Eleuthera, North Andros and Abaco.
Following last month's devastating fire at The Mud in Abaco, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and a delegation of government officials travelled to the island to review the situation, subsequently announcing their intention to increase penalties for landlords who rent property to illegal immigrants.
To that end, Mr Foulkes yesterday disclosed that preliminary findings show all shanty towns in The Bahamas are either owned by Bahamians or exist in circumstances where Bahamians have the lease approval to oversee those properties.
"Rents are collected in all the shanty towns, mainly by Bahamians," Mr Foulkes said.
He also said the committee has received a three-page action plan which features a clear timeline and specific goals.
However, he said that plan will not be rushed by public demands or criticisms, adding that the government will continue to be guided by law and the various international conventions The Bahamas have signed.
Mr Foulkes said: "We hope that we will be able to do this in a humane fashion and a sensitive fashion. There are a lot of children who live in these shanty towns and we have to be very sensitive to that. Most of them are in schools.
"Most of the residents there are working; a large section of them are actually Bahamian citizens, either have been naturalised Bahamians or who married Bahamians and have rights to be here.
"A lot of the residents have work permits. There is a section of the residents in the shanty towns who are illegal and we intend to let them go through the process and have them deported.
"There is also a small criminal element in some of the bigger shanty towns, and we are doing our due diligence to ensure that that is dealt with.
"You would have seen a lot of things on social media and I know that the public is very concerned about the conditions of these shanty towns," he added.
Mr Foulkes confirmed his committee has already visited the eight communities identified in southwestern New Providence and made plans to visit the three communities in eastern New Providence.
He also said the committee is making preparations to tour all the others identified.
While at The Mud following a fire there last month, Dr Minnis emphasised that shanty towns "break every regulation and law and safety standard in the country," adding that his administration will finally be the one to address the problem.
Dr Minnis questioned why legal residents on the island would live in the area as opposed to a proper subdivision.
"This cannot continue," he told some residents. "You're breaking every safety regulation. You don't have the infrastructure in place. You have ignored it and allowed it to fester… Let them know we're not going to tolerate this. This is a thing of the past."
In the days after the statements, some residents of shanty towns took to social media sites to vent frustration over their circumstances and offer some level of insight on what contributed to their decisions to take up residence in such communities.
In the process, some laid blame at the feet of successive governments who they claimed turned a blind eye to the landowners that operated the communities. Others admitted the substandard conditions was all they could afford while working to obtain the necessary documents to reside in The Bahamas.