By MALCOM STRACHAN
AS we enter the final week of July, we are rapidly approaching the deadline for all shanty town residents to evacuate these communities. The government’s extension from the original date of July 31 to August 10 has given these residents some extra time to pack their belongings and secure new accommodations.
For Prime Minister Minnis, it should be widely accepted he has done a good job in relation to illegal immigration and the eradication of shanty towns. Barring a few communication blunders, the government has evidently followed a plan, communicated it to the Bahamian public, and dealt with individuals in a humane fashion.
Surely, there are many ways in which this could have gone terribly wrong for the government. However, from the beginning of 2018, the prime minister made it clear the existence of shanty towns in The Bahamas was approaching its eventual end.
While humanitarian groups have found fault with the government for its decision to eliminate shanty towns, the government’s goal is consistent with the desires of most Bahamians.
For far too long, we’ve felt that life has been harder for Bahamians in our country, while we watch parallel societies exist a stone’s throw away from the homes we sweat and bleed for.
The entire system has turned a blind eye to shanty towns for years, spanning generations – all while many Bahamians’ homes have been foreclosed on and others struggle to meet their financial obligations.
Successive governments have placed the issue on the backburner from time immemorial.
Thus, many citizens are delighted to see the government finally taking action on this bane of the Bahamian people.
That being said, no one really (unless you’re a heartless soul) wants to see people displaced – particularly those who have invested their hard-earned money. The local dailies have reported on the plight of shanty town residents, giving their accounts in the face of the government’s decision to destroy their homes - some of hopelessness, some of fear – all filled with pain and anguish.
This much can be expected - as this is no easy decision, even though the Bahamian people are not often the biggest sympathisers for the residents of these communities. The government has also stated it has no intention of housing these individuals.
However, the prime minister’s decision to give former Minister of Transport Frankie Campbell the Social Services portfolio has gotten the citizenry to talking in their circles about how he will be an operative for the Haitian community.
The Bahamian people will certainly have a watchful eye to see how his Haitian roots will impact how his ministry’s resources will be utilised.
One thing for sure - when August 10 comes around, we will be sure to see images that should strike a chord with our humanity. Families will watch their homes - where their children may have taken their first steps or said their first words - bulldozed to rubble.
While it may be the right thing to do, it will certainly not be easy. As we have grown accustomed to successive governments’ apprehension to make the hard decisions, the Minnis administration faces another gut check moment.
On the heels of increasing value added tax - no doubt a very uncomfortable decision for any government to make – to double down and displace such a huge group of potential voters is a break from what we’ve seen our leaders do in the past.
This is certainly something the Progressive Liberal Party, which is struggling to gain traction since its crushing defeat in the last general election, has taken note of. Guilty of passing the buck on finding a permanent solution to shanty towns, they have come out sounding off on the government for not having a plan beyond evicting residents and destroying the communities.
Of course, they want to appeal to the downtrodden and displaced, and hopefully gain some political brownie points to store up for the next election.
However, where the government does have a counterpoint is its position of placing personal responsibility on those residents. Nonetheless, the optics from this ordeal have the potential for a great international backlash.
As the prime minister just spoke on poverty at the United Nations, the timing could not be less ideal.
Take President Trump, for example – while he is many undesirable things, his decision to round up immigrants, separating children from their families and putting them in cages garnered the attention of global media. He was rightfully eviscerated in the international media for his barbaric decision to split families during his egomaniacal campaign against immigration.
Incontestably, there is no direct correlation between President Trump’s camps and plans here in The Bahamas.
However, the imminent effect of the government’s decision to remove shanty towns is palpable.
The world is sensitive to what can be presented as a crime against humanity.
And with local factions promoting exaggerated propaganda, the blowback can create a tense environment for the prime minister.
Prime Minister Minnis has not yet faced international pressure like his predecessor.
His decision to increase value added tax has hurt him locally, but the government seems to not be putting much stock in what the populace is agitating for today, as they face a gimpy opposition party on the other side of the aisle.
That said, just as news of the former government’s immigration crackdown under the guidance of former Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell made its way to Miami, we would kid ourselves to think this will not make waves as well.
The prime minister will have to stand on the side of what’s right here. Indeed, no prime minister has led a government that has come this far on immigration. For that, we should all tip our hats.
In light of all this, the government cannot allow its momentum to be hampered. This is the right thing to do. This is the right time to do it, and most importantly, this is what’s good for The Bahamas.
All Bahamians should be in support of this.