The attorney general and minister of national security are looking at “criminal networks” that were able to set up illegal generator connections in Haitian shantytowns on Abaco, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said yesterday.
During a tour of The Mudd, the largest shantytown on Abaco, Bannister said the area, a “blight on our society”, will be cleared of debris and fenced in.
He repeated the government’s commitment to preventing residents from rebuilding in the community.
The Mudd, located in Marsh Harbour, was obliterated during the passage of Hurricane Dorian in early September. Several bodies were recovered from debris during cleanup of the area.
A recent government report noted that The Mudd was the “most densely populated shantytown in Abaco”. Some 470 people lived in the community, the report said.
Before the storm, The Mudd, and its neighbor Pigeon Peas, consisted of hundreds of makeshift homes, with no legal electricity or water and sewerage connections.
But residents in the area had electricity thanks to several generators that sat at its various entrances.
Bannister raised the issue during his tour of the area.
“It is a challenge to stop persons from connecting these things, but from what I saw, there was a whole lot of money behind what was happening here,” he said.
“When you buy a generator of that size and you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on it, that’s money that somebody with money was able to make happen. People with money were able to make that happen.
“When you are able to bring something of that size into the country without customs being aware of it…there are some criminal networks here that I believe the attorney general and the minister of national security are looking at very seriously.
“Those criminal networks are persons who have assets and who have huge amounts of money.
“What they’ve done is taken advantage of poor people. So, they bring a generator here. They spend maybe half a million to a million dollars on it and then they give everybody illegal connections and they charge them for those illegal connections.
“So, you subvert the country’s revenue in many, many ways and you keep people essentially imprisoned in poverty. And that’s what happened in these shantytowns. And that’s one of the reasons why we have to get rid of them.”
He added, “There are any number of open cesspits. The conditions that people lived in were unsanitary. If you look around you, you’ll see illegal connections to the water and sewerage network, which means that we had a lot of non-revenue water, a lot of theft of water. They have a whole area where they have piled up generators, illegal generators that could have caused fires and other challenges.”
As noted earlier, the shantytown communities on Abaco, like many other areas on the island, were decimated, leaving hundreds of people homeless, without a job and with an uncertain future.
There were reports that many of the migrants who returned to Abaco have attempted to build new shantytowns.
Bannister said it’s only natural that some former residents of the shantytowns on Abaco have tried to return to live in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
“For them it’s a natural reaction, because it’s all they know and where they lived,” he said.
“But the contractors have assured me that when it has been attempted, they’ve stopped it very quickly. I’ve asked them to ensure that the police and the authorities are involved so that there is no violence directed against them or their personnel.”
Abaco shantytowns were some of the hardest hit areas in Hurricane Dorian. Of the 69 bodies recovered from Abaco and Grand Bahama, the largest portion of them were from shantytowns, The Mudd and Pigeon Peas in particular.
Bannister said the areas should never have been allowed to stay around as long as they did due to safety concerns. However, he expressed hope that the site could become a vibrant community in the future.
“This site here is a blight on our society,” said Bannister.
“It’s a condemnation of decades of neglect in our country that we have allowed to happen.”
He added, “This was a little city in itself that existed all by itself. They had their shops in there and nothing was built to regulations. So, it must have been horrible. It must have been extremely frightening to be here in the middle of the storm. We cannot permit that to ever happen again in The Bahamas. I know some people are not happy with what the government is seeking to do with shantytowns. But just imagine the horror that some people had to live in when that storm hit. And just imagine what they had to do to get out of here.
“As a government, a government in a civilized society, we cannot let that happen. We cannot let that continue.
“So this is going to be cleaned up. It is going to be fenced in properly, and when that is done, the government is going to have to make some decisions.
“On a personal level, I’d like to see a new city sprout up here, as has happened all around the world. And we certainly have the land to make that happen. This would be a wonderful commercial area in the heart of Marsh Harbour and it could create many opportunities.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has said that the government intends to acquire shantytown property on Abaco through compulsory acquisition.