What happens to displaced shantytown residents? Bannister says that’s not his problem
“It’s not my responsibility to take care of those residents”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government demolished 10 illegal housing structures in the Farm shantytown on Abaco over the weekend, as it continues its third phase of eradicating such dwellings throughout the country.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works Desmond Bannister told reporters yesterday the government has more than 200 illegal structures left to tackle.
“We have started the third phase, but we are doing it with decency, notwithstanding the legality that these houses were built with,” he said.
Bannister said additional notices will be posted up on the remaining structures to advise residents they have three days’ grace to remove their belongings before demolition takes place.
He underscored the challenge of demolishing homes that are occupied, adding that this makes the process take longer than normal.
Bannister explained that a Ministry of Works team went to the shantytown last week and found a number of homes still had homeowners’ possessions in them.
He said those team members would have spoken with the owners if they were nearby, advised them of what will happen and asked them to remove their belongings from the structures.
If residents did not remove their belongings, Bannister said, the team took photographs and inventory of the items and removed them before demolishing the property.
“We are proceeding in a methodical matter to demolish all of these illegally-constructed houses,” Bannister said.
“They were all constructed in direct breach of a law, in direct breach of a Supreme Court order.”
A total of 177 shantytown residents remain in a legal battle with the government over its bid to rid the nation of shantytowns.
Bannister said the government has identified almost 200 illegal structures in the shantytown that he claims are in direct breach of the law.
“None of them can stand up to hurricane-force winds,” he added.
“They are all built in breach of the code, in breach of the law. None of them have permits and if you have a strong wind, it will all be gone. We will be spending your money to rescue people in the midst of a hurricane if there’s another hurricane in Abaco.
“In addition, there are no sanitation facilities. These are diseases waiting to happen and waiting to spread in Abaco and in New Providence.”
Human rights groups, including United Nations human rights experts, have repeatedly appealed to the government not to proceed with the demolitions, with the UN citing health and humanitarian concerns that “the community of largely Haitian descendants and migrants numbering up to 2,000 people, including many women and children, are at serious risk of becoming homeless”.
Asked yesterday what will happen to those now displaced residents, Bannister said: “It’s not my responsibility to take care of those residents.”
He added: “That may sound harsh but when they went out there and built in direct contravention to the law, they ought to have known that they were beaching the law of The Bahamas.
“They’ve gotten notices now for more than 28 days, and they’ve done nothing. It’s very important for them to utilize their resources.
“Whatever resources they had to build the house in the first place, they could have applied in accordance with the law, gotten permits and be able to lawfully construct something.”
Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said last week displaced shantytown residents can seek assistance from the Department of Social Services without fear.