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Renewed focus on removing Abaco shantytowns

A Cabinet minister said renewed focus will be placed on “irregular structures in Abaco”, with plans to notify occupants this week that the structures must be removed.

Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said he visited Abaco last week, where he saw “quite a number” of such structures that he said must be dealt with.

“There are quite a number. There are aerial shots of them. So, as of this week, you will see signage go up and those persons who are responsible for performing their tasks, either they perform them or they move out. But we cannot have this,” he told Guardian Business.

Last year, the government issued an immediate six-month ban on the construction of new buildings in The Mudd, Sandbanks and Pigeon Peas shantytowns, which suffered severe wind and flood damage during the devastating Category 5 Hurricane Dorian last year.

Through compulsory acquisition, the government also took control of the land shortly after the storm and had it cleared of debris, thereafter.

The Farm Road shantytown, however, still has structures on it.

“I’ve taken the lead role in that as well as the minister of foreign affairs in his capacity as being the MP for North Abaco. We went there with a representative from the attorney general’s office because you know the court order says that no other houses were to be constructed, especially those houses that represent shanty houses. So, we’re putting together a team to deal with that,” Johnson said.

“What saddens me is that you would have persons responsible for identifying and citing these structures and it’s not being done with the sort of urgency that is deserved. Because you’re protecting people, you’re ensuring that they build properly, there are certain codes that you must adhere to in terms of fires. COVID-19 now underscores the need for regulation in everything we do in terms of social distancing. You can’t build houses right up on other houses. Anybody wanting to construct houses in The Bahamas, there are rules that you have to obey.”

Johnson said his team must act in accordance with the law on this matter.

“Not just in Abaco, you have to enforce it, and deliberately, because you place people’s lives in risk when you don’t do it properly. And, then it causes other people to feel some degree of inequality because as we now look at land reform in The Bahamas and how we can get land in the hands of Bahamians, most certainly, Bahamians are feeling a little disadvantaged when they follow the law and not indiscriminately build and they see other persons go to a lay down site, take lumber and just throw things up,” he said.

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