FNM calls for action on shantytowns

The Free National Movement (FNM) yesterday called upon the government to act on the “out of control” construction of a number of unregulated communities throughout The Bahamas.

“Bahamians throughout the country and in particular New Providence, Abaco, North Andros and Eleuthera, are raising the alarm that there are significant numbers of unregulated developments or shantytowns springing up in their communities and expanding on a daily basis,” the FNM said in a statement.

“The concerns from many tax-paying residents have fallen on the deaf ears of a number of Progressive Liberal Party MPs, some of whom represent these various communities.

“What is even more disappointing and shocking is the deafening silence from the government of The Bahamas, most especially the prime minister and the minister of works, in response to this matter.

“Not only are Bahamians concerned about the number of these developments that are popping up in their backyards but we are also worried that the Davis administration seems paralyzed, unable and unprepared to address this very serious issue.

“Many are also concerned about the impact that these unregulated communities are having on their property value and the health concerns and real risk to the water tables and the overall environment.”

The FNM also said, “Many Bahamians are also taking to social media and talk shows to voice their frustration about the many shantytowns that seem to be constructed without any regard or fear of law and order, and there are real concerns that a number of illegal activities are also taking place in these unregulated communities.”

The FNM said while in government, it commenced an aggressive program to combat the vexing issue of unregulated developments, “unlike the Davis administration who clearly do not have any plan or intention to tackle this national concern”.

In 2021, when the FNM was still in office, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson ordered the government to “cease and desist” further demolitions in shantytowns on Abaco and ruled that the government must get approval from the court if it wishes to demolish structures in shantytowns on the island.

Shantytown residents challenged the government’s 2018 policy, which sought to get rid of shantytowns in The Bahamas.

Implementation of the policy was halted after an injunction — banning demolition on New Providence and parts of Abaco — was granted by Grant-Thompson in 2018.

A substantial ruling has not yet been made and the injunction remains in place.

Minister of Works Alfred Sears spoke to the shantytown issue yesterday, prior to the release of the FNM’s statement.

Sears was contacted by The Nassau Guardian after Central and South Abaco MP John Pinder said in an interview that shantytown structures have grown significantly in the three-plus years since Hurricane Dorian destroyed large shantytowns on Abaco.

Pinder said, “Since that injunction, the different departments have been a little nervous, not knowing how far they can go.”

The Abaco MP said, “There has to be a way forward. We should be able to defend our sovereignty.”

Sears noted yesterday the shantytown issue impacts multiple areas of The Bahamas. He said he recently visited a shantytown on Eleuthera.

“I’m going to ask Building Control along with other agencies to go in and do a survey and we will have to review the matter that is in court and we are going to have to come up with a comprehensive set of measures to address this issue because it’s not a one-island issue,” Sears said.

Asked whether he felt the government’s hands are tied on the issue, given the outstanding court case and the existing injunction, the minister said he is awaiting a written opinion from government attorneys.

In June, Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe said the government intends to demolish shantytowns not covered by the injunction.

“The issue that the government has with shantytowns is illegal buildings contrary to the relevant laws. The Ministry of Works had gone to demolish properties. There was an injunction in place,” he said.

“My understanding is that the Ministry of Works will continue seeking to demolish all illegally built properties that are not the subject of the injunction…”

In its statement yesterday, the FNM suggested the Davis administration was more eager to demolish domes in Abaco than it is addressing the shantytown problem.

“The country watched in shock when Prime Minister Davis along with his Minister of Housing JoBeth Coleby-Davis recently authorized the demolition of domes in Spring City, Abaco, which a number of vulnerable Bahamians called home after being displaced by Hurricane Dorian or who had otherwise fallen on hard times,” the FNM said.

“The cry of the country to this day is, how could Prime Minister Davis have the nerve to bulldoze the homes of Bahamians but lack the courage to do anything about illegal housing developments, especially the ones in Abaco, New Providence, North Andros and Eleuthera that seem to be built daily in plain sight of local officials? This is unacceptable.”

The FNM said, “The unfortunate reality is that from the vantage point of many Bahamians, Prime Minister Davis and his government have thrown their hands in the air, raised the white flag on this issue and have surrendered to the actions of those who will not follow our laws.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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