Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said yesterday the Office of the Attorney General is seeking to get “the appropriate authorization” to clear The Farm shantytown on Abaco.
Several shantytowns were wiped out by Hurricane Dorian when it struck Abaco in September 2019. The government promised to clear the shantytowns that were left standing in the wake of the storm.
Yesterday, while speaking to reporters in the foyer of the House of Assembly, Bannister said, “What happened in Abaco is that the ministry was supposed to clear four shantytowns. We cleared three. We couldn’t clear The Farm because there were families actually living there. There were a number of court orders with respect to how you treat these places where there are families.
“I believe that the attorney general’s office and the relevant authorities are seeking to get the appropriate authorization so that we can clear The Farm. In the interim, I know that there have been some new attempts at construction there.
“In every one of those places, where people have started new construction, the ministry’s offices in Abaco have gone there and affixed the statutory notices. You know, before we demolish anything, the law requires to affix notices to the residents.”
The minister said the ministry’s office on Abaco is “monitoring everything that happens there”.
“We have to follow a certain procedure to do what we have to do,” Bannister said.
“If we don’t follow these procedures, we’ll end up in court again. And so, there are challenges to be able to follow the process, to abide by the law, to follow the directions that the court provides and do it in a lawful matter. So, that is what the Ministry of Works is doing now.”
Bannister was unable to say how many people are living in The Farm.
Early in its term, the Minnis administration announced plans to demolish shantytowns in The Bahamas.
In August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson handed down an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
The government is seeking to have the injunction lifted.
After Dorian, the government issued an immediate six-month ban on the construction of new buildings on Abaco shantytowns.
Yesterday, Bannister said it’s time that Bahamians start addressing the issue of shantytowns nationally.
“We have allowed this thing to happen in this country for 50 years,” he said.
Bannister said shantytowns have thrived over the years because “our people have been complacent in it”.
“You have to ask yourself: where are these illegal immigrants working?” he asked.
“What jobs are they going to do? Who’s hiring them? How do they have money to do these things? And when you ask yourself these questions, you ask yourself: are we working against ourselves as Bahamians and whether we really want to target the problems that face the country?
“Whether we continue to place the blame and responsibility on government agencies as opposed to assuring that we live up to obligations as Bahamian citizens, I think this is an appropriate time to ask that question coming up to independence this week.
“Who’s hiring hundreds and hundreds of people on Eleuthera, Exuma, Andros, all these communities, people who are undocumented? It’s a very serious question for us to ask ourselves at independence.”