By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government’s decision to conduct a census starting with shanty towns in New Providence tomorrow has come as a surprise to Haitian community leaders who stressed the success of these efforts is predicated heavily on their involvement.
Activist Louby Georges was adamant the exercise could “fail” rendering it a waste of resources in the absence of a public education campaign to sensitise shanty town dwellers of what they could expect when officials descend upon the community. Without this, he said residents will “run and hide” at the sight of officials.
Meanwhile, Dr Jean Paul Charles, president of the Haitian League of Pastors said while he had no knowledge of plans for a government census, his organisation would support it with the right approach.
On Wednesday, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes revealed 11 teams were being trained ahead of a census exercise in all 11 shanty towns spread across the capital. It is expected to begin tomorrow.
He said the intention was f or the government to glean an understanding of the demographics involved as it moves to clean up the capital and more broadly the country.
“Not knocking the idea, but I don’t think it make sense to jump in there this week without doing any sort of public education campaign,” Mr Georges said. “I think this will be a fruitless exercise, and a waste of resources if it’s not done in conjunction or collaboration with the Haitian community itself then it will fail.
“Unless they are gonna go on some law of average, there is no way they would get any amount of information close to what they are looking for and help them make determinations moving forward.”
He continued: “You doing this in the height of the immigration talks going around town, people are going to be running hiding, and even if you get someone to talk to you I doubt it will be accurate. You need a public education campaign to help to get those individuals to understand why it’s important to have a census, so they can deal with shanty towns.
“No education, no campaign, you can’t just jump up; don’t just launch it, train people - collaborate with persons known and already trusted in the Haitian community, join forces with them and have an educational campaign through churches and activities in those communities.
“Talk to the people and sensitise them.”
Mr Foulkes said the purpose of the survey is to ascertain exactly how many residents are in each shanty town, their ages, how many are in school, how many are working and whether there are any disability issues.
These kinds of questions among others will make up the census to enable to government to execute its plan to eradicate shanty towns in the best way.
For his part, Dr Paul Charles said his last meeting with government officials a month ago focused on accommodations for shanty town residents when the government began its work in removing them.
He said: “We were at a meeting about a month ago and the government said they were going to provide some place for people before they do anything. That’s the last thing I knew last month.
“This news of a census is new to me. I know that they said they were coming with a solution to shanty towns. It’s a good thing, but at the same time what about the people who live there?
“Its success would be based on the support of Haitian pastors and at the same time in order for the Haitian pastors to get on board we need at first for the government to speak with us.”
The government’s shanty town committee, has toured many of the shanty towns in The Bahamas and has narrowed down who the Bahamian landowners are. The government, Mr Foulkes said, intends to meet with these people to get a full understanding of the shanty town issue.
While there is no clear indication at this point when the exercise will be completed in New Providence, the minister said census officials will focus their attention on the Family Islands when this is done.
This comes after the committee last Sunday toured the Farm Lands, Sand Banks, the Mud and Pigeon Peas shanty towns in Abaco where they got a sobering picture of the urgent need to overhaul these areas.