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Johnson: Both parties bear responsibility for shanty towns

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: May 21, 2013

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Both the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Free National Movement (FNM) governments bear collective responsibility for the proliferation of shanty towns throughout the country, according to the head of a local human rights group.

Elsworth Johnson, president of the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN), said the Department of Environmental Health and the Ministry of Works have failed in their duties.

“These towns didn’t just come into being overnight.  The building inspectors willfully failed or neglected to exercise due diligence and carry out their responsibilities.”

Johnson said there have been numerous complaints about unregulated communities such as Pigeon Pea and the Mud in Abaco but government failed to act.

“When a Bahamian builds a structure, they stop it if something isn’t right.  It’s unthinkable that these communities have been set up without building permits.”

Johnson said thanks to the “neglect” of government agencies there are now “unlawful’ communities of women, children and men.

According to him, now that the problem has been allowed to fester the government has a duty to deal with these communities in a “humane and lawful way”.

He said that the respective government agencies ought to inspect the communities, noting that the Building Regulations Act and Environmental Health Act authorizes these agencies to issue sanctions and seek a court order to have the homes destroyed.

“In the 21st century, we cannot allow people to live in such circumstances, they have to go.  Those who are entitled to be regularized, ought to be regularized.  Those who are not entitled to be regularized, ought to be removed under the Immigration Act.  You cannot play with the situation, it’s not in the best interests of the country and it just won’t go away.”

Johnson said citizens should have asked the courts to review the actions of the governmental agencies tasked with the responsibility of overseeing developments. In his opinion, those agencies have failed the Bahamian public.

“I would submit there is no way a community that large could exist without their knowledge.”

Johnson said the shantytowns “go against every norm of human rights.  You can’t just come here and arbitrarily take land.  It’s a culture we can’t allow to spread.”

According to a recent Department of Environmental Health report on shanty towns obtained by The Nassau Guardian, there has been “a marked increase” in the number of new shanty towns on New Providence over the last two years and the populations have increased “exponentially”.

The report said, “There is little to no government water systems, no garbage collection services and very little human waste disposal, which can range from satisfactory to the other extreme of placing human feces in plastic shopping bags, and dumping waste in nearby bushes and naturally occurring sink holes.”

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