By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT’S shanty town committee has started surveying several irregular communities in the country as it seeks to crack down on the growing problem, according to Works and Utilities Minister Alfred Sears.
He said yesterday that surveys will have to be expanded to more islands that are also grappling with the vexing issue.
A multi-agency committee, composed of representatives from various government departments, ministries and law enforcement agencies, was formed earlier this year in response to the illegal developments.
The group was given a 45-day deadline in September to review and survey people living in the unregulated developments and another 15 days to report back to ministry officials with recommendations on the way forward.
When asked for an update on the committee’s work yesterday, Mr Sears said an assessment of those communities was already underway, but he could not say when preliminary reports would be completed by the group.
However, once completed, the minister said officials will compare the data with previous surveys to determine the degree of expansion in those areas.
“They’ve started to work,” he told reporters before going to a Cabinet meeting yesterday. “There are a number of surveys which are being done. Those surveys will have to be expanded because it has come to our attention in other islands, other than the ones we were focused on initially, that there are communities which are irregular, which are squatting on land, so, the scope has had to be expanded.
“And that means more resources in terms of aerial surveys, in terms of persons going in and ascertaining who are in these communities. So the preparatory work is ongoing and you know, this is not a matter that has just developed overnight.”
He added: “It really requires a national survey, because it is not restricted to one or two islands, but there are multiple islands and we want to address it comprehensively. Clearly, there will be international implications.
“And our communication is being made with multilateral bodies concerned with emigration and resettlement issues so that we are dealing with the national issues, but certainly, the rule of law has to be maintained and the response has to be comprehensive.”
There have been heightened calls in recent months for the government to address the issue of shanty towns due to an increasing number of illegal communities springing up on several islands, including Abaco, Eleuthera and Andros.
Mr Sears said yesterday before action can be taken, there must be preparation as the matter calls for a multi-agency approach.
“It involves multiple government agencies, the natural resources of the country and multiple interests, because in some areas from the intelligence we are getting, you have Bahamians who are leasing land on which some of these irregular communities are located,” he added.
He also highlighted Andros as one such island where these activities were taking place, saying “Andros is one of the places which has been brought to our attention most recently.”
“We are undertaking an aerial survey,” he continued. “And in some of the areas we have a base, because at the time, which was, I think 2020 when the application was made into 2019, data was collected of certain areas in New Providence, as well as in Abaco and subsequent surveys are being compared with that base data, so that we can ascertain the degree of expansion that would have taken place since the basis data was collected.”
The Supreme Court in 2018 granted an injunction protecting shanty town homes in New Providence and parts of Abaco from destruction pending an outcome of a judicial review over the matter.
After Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco in 2019, the government sought to have the 2018 injunction varied to exclude Abaco shanty towns and their residents and started demolishing newly built structures on the island post Dorian.
However, the government was ordered to cease and desist from further demolitions when Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson ordered an extension of her injunction to include all unregulated communities in Abaco.
Officials were told that they must now get approval from the court before demolishing any further structures.
Mr Sears vowed that any action taken will be done in accordance with the law, while adding that the committee’s strategy to address the problems of shanty towns also will be guided by that.