DEMOLITION work at The Farm in Abaco last weekend.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister has stressed the demolition of homes in the Farm shanty town in Abaco will be done with decency but said it is not his responsibility to take care of residents displaced by the destruction of their houses.
“That might sound harsh,” he told reporters before a Cabinet meeting yesterday, “but when they went out there and built in direct contravention of the law, they knew or ought to have known that they were breaching the law of The Bahamas.
“They’ve gotten notices now for more than 28 days and they’ve done nothing. It’s very important for them to use their resources, whatever resources they had to build the house in the first place, they could’ve applied in accordance with the law and be able to lawfully construct something just as any of y’all would do.”
Mr Bannister confirmed that on Friday the government began the third phase of its plan to demolish shanty houses that were built since a Supreme Court ruling in December 2018 ordered the government not to demolish the shanty structures that existed at that time. That ruling also ordered residents not to build any new shanty houses.
Mr Bannister said the structures currently targeted for destruction “are being constructed directly contrary to a Supreme Court order that said you are not to construct any shanty houses or you’re not to enlarge them or anything like that.”
The Tribune on Sunday spoke to a man who said dealing with the destruction of his house has been a nightmare. He said he has been separated from his girlfriend and her two-year-old daughter while they figure out their next move.
The Bahamian man said he built his house in The Farm after Hurricane Dorian destroyed his home in Marsh Harbour. He said he knew what he was doing was against the law but hoped to make it work until he could get back on his feet.
Mr Bannister said the Ministry of Works has gone out of its way to let residents secure their belongings even after they ignored notices to leave the premises.
“… We are doing it with decency, notwithstanding the illegality that these houses were built with,” he said.
“Despite the fact that we have already given notices of all the houses, we have fixed notices on houses again and those notices indicate that after three days the ministry would demolish those houses. So we give them three days grace – the notices are in English and in Creole – asking people to remove their belongings. They have three days grace and we’re going to come and demolish them. That’s on top of the notice that they’ve gotten.
“You could imagine that demolishing houses that are occupied is a challenge, it takes longer than normal, and so on (Friday) our teams went in. They met a number of houses that still had persons’ possessions in (them). In virtually every case, notwithstanding the fact that they had been given notice, if the owner was around, they spoke with them, told them what they were going to do, asked them to remove their belongings. Where they did not remove their belongings, they took photographs of the belongings, they then inventoried them, they then removed them except in cases where the owner said they didn’t want them anymore. Then those houses were demolished.
“On (Friday) we demolished six buildings. That was a full day’s work. (We) came back the next day, which was Saturday, and demolished an additional four. We’re proceeding in a methodical manner to demolish all of these illegally constructed houses. They were all constructed in direct breach of the law, in direct breach of a Supreme Court order.
“There are a number of shanty town houses in New Providence. . . Last week I got a complaint from one Bahamian. Every week I get a complaint from Bahamians. Last week I got a complaint from a Bahamian man who had gone to the bank, borrowed money, purchased two lots. During the pandemic he could not do anything on his property, went back after the pandemic and found 19 shanty houses on his lots when he’s trying to get additional money to build his home. That is what we are facing. It’s a very serious, serious issue. We take it seriously and we’re going to carry out our mandate in accordance with the law.”
Mr Bannister said almost 200 houses are targeted for demolition.
“If you saw any of the videos,” he said, “you would notice that none of them could stand up to hurricane force winds. They are all built in breach of the code. None of them have permits and if you have a strong wind, they’ll all be gone and we’d be spending your money to rescue people in the midst of a hurricane if there is another hurricane in Abaco. In addition to that, there are no sanitation facilities. These are diseases waiting to happen and waiting to spread in Abaco and in New Providence.”