By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WORKS and Utilities Minister Alfred Sears revealed yesterday that he has given ministry officials who are a part of a special committee investigating irregular communities in the country a 45-day deadline to review and survey people living in the unregulated developments.
Once all of the necessary data has been collected, committee members will have another 15 days to get back to the minister with recommendations on how to deal with the illegal developments.
“I have given the Ministry of Works a very strict direction,” Mr Sears said yesterday. “Under the building control regulation, dilapidated buildings and buildings which are inconsistent with the code, there is the legal authority to give notice and even to demolish.
“In the case of these large irregular communities, you’re talking about a more complex situation and I have directed, and I disclose now that the ministry constitutes a committee to look at irregular communities in Abaco, which I saw myself as I drove from the airport, and that is what prompted me to ask the ministry to review it.”
His comments come amid heightened calls for the government to address the issue of shanty towns in the country due to an increasing number of illegal communities springing up, particularly on the island of Abaco.
North Abaco MP Kirk Cornish recently told The Tribune he wanted the government to create a special task force to deal with the matter, saying the number of reported shanty towns on the island was “alarming”.
While acknowledging the concerns of Abaco residents, Mr Sears said he has also received reports of people building on commonage land in Eleuthera.
This led him to personally assess the site with local officials last week.
“I met with the chief counsel, Mr Robert Roberts, the Spanish Wells district, and I also met with Mr Ivanhoe Sweeting, the chairman of the Spanish Wells commonage committee and I, after speaking with them, they were kind enough to accompany me and to give me a guided review of that community.
“They indicated that these structures were not authorised by the commonage.
“Then Mr Scott Sawyer who is area engineer for Eleuthera indicated that approvals for the structures were not obtained from the Ministry of Works so I’ve asked the ministry to constitute a committee under the leadership of building control.”
Mr Sears said the committee will involve other key ministries such as immigration and health and added the group has been tasked with collecting important data from the residents living in these illegal communities.
“I’ve given them a date certain by which to get back to me with a complete background of the demographic of these communities, not only in Eleuthera and Grand Bahama, but throughout our Commonwealth and to provide options and recommendations, I will take that to cabinet so that we can have a rational, multi-dimensional response.”
He continued: “I’ve also asked that the legal counsel in the Ministry of Works, advise me of the extant matter, which is in court, so that we have the benefit of the guidance from the Supreme Court because as we move, we have to move in a very rational, compassionate, but also, we have to uphold the rule of law and that is what we intend to do.”
As for the deadline given to the committee, the minister said: “The date is 45 days by which to assemble, review, survey and then upon the collection of the data, about 15 days to prepare the policy options and recommendations and to have that to me so that I can take it to Cabinet.”
Mr Sears said it was important for the government to deal with the issue of shanty towns because “we can’t be kicking this tin down the road.”
“We have to address it in a comprehensive way.
“It may also involve the assistance of multilateral agencies dealing with refugee matters and so on. So, it’s a complex matter, but it’s one that we are dealing with.”