Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that the government intends to acquire shantytown property in Abaco through compulsory acquisition.
In a communication in the House of Assembly, Minnis said, “Mr. Speaker, I’ve said before that we will – and we will report on this – we will eradicate shantytowns and return law to our country.
“I’ve heard noise and I will report on this also next week, Mr. Speaker. I’ve heard noise about the property of the shantytowns and I’ve informed the attorney general to compulsorily acquire The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks and other related areas.”
The constitution provides for the compulsory acquisition of land by the government.
When reached yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Carl Bethel said he had not been “instructed in respect to an acquisition policy or plan”.
“I am not aware of any formal decision on that matter,” Bethel said.
He added, “…Announcing policy and formalizing are two different things. We have not reached the formalization of that policy’s stage. I am aware of the sentiments and I’m aware of the expression and the expressed intent to look closely at that issue.
“If the prime minister has formulated it in his mind, it will soon be a government policy, undoubtedly.”
The Abaco shantytowns were decimated by Hurricane Dorian in early September. Many of the residents from those areas are now homeless.
After the storm, the government issued an immediate six-month ban on the construction of new buildings in shantytowns.
Minnis also addressed the illegal immigration issue, which has resurfaced after the hurricane.
“This morning, I met with representatives of the IOM, International Organization [for] Migration,” he said.
“They were informed that we are a country of laws and our laws with respect to illegals, illegal immigrants, will be carried out. However, they will be carried out in a humane manner. Therefore, I send a notice to all those who are illegal that they can leave voluntarily or they will be forced to leave.”
Some of the storm deaths occurred in shantytowns.
The attorney general said the government is considering turning the shantytowns into public parks.
The Bahamas has historically grappled with the existence of shantytowns.
Last year, the government announced that shantytowns will be demolished.
Residents of most shantytowns on New Providence were given until August 10, 2018, to leave before demolition.
The government gave residents in shantytowns on Abaco until the end of July 2019 to leave.
However, in August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
The Supreme Court has adjourned the case several times.
Minnis has said shantytowns expose individuals to health, environmental and other risks.
He said the government will not tolerate shantytowns.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice