Published: Jun 20, 2013
I was not surprised when I read in the daily newspapers about the possible outbreak of cholera linked to the 15-plus shantytown communities that exist in New Providence. There are other illegal communities throughout the country that reproduce the concerns of the spread of disease, associated with illegal squatting on land, whether government or private owned.
There are hundreds of Bahamians wishing for their own homes, so much so that it puts pressure on the government to respond to that demand. Their response is to begin construction of 120 homes in the coming weeks. It’s a start, but would we be hard pressed to find land to construct these homes on if we decide to address this shantytown problem for once and for all?
Our country is built on rules and laws, which we as its citizens are required to follow. Why should there be a different standard for foreigners to our country? As citizens we have to purchase a parcel of land, get plans approved for construction and follow the law to the letter to realize the dream of our first or even second home. It is not impossible, but highly improbable, that citizens would move to squat before seeking legal ownership of a parcel of land.
The other problem these shanty villages create is that they are driving down property values for neighboring communities.
Last week during his contribution to the budget debate, Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett said, “The proliferation of shantytowns is a vexatious problem. They operate outside the requirements for proper sanitation, without regard to the building code and in violation of safety requirements for electricity.”
He added that, “The Department of Environmental Health Services is taking steps to proactively address all of these infractions and other environmental issues surrounding the proliferation of shantytowns throughout the country. A special project unit (SPU) was created within the Ministry of the Environment and Housing to address the environmental health issues associated with shantytowns.”
It seems this government has laid a plan to proceed to address this problem. Minister Dorsett added that the Ministry of Works will serve notices it may deem appropriate and shantytown occupiers and owners will be required to provide an occupancy certificate, approved building plan/permit from the Ministry of Works, approved BEC connection and approved by Water & Sewerage connection. If these cannot be produced, the Ministry of Works will also be able to take necessary action.
It is a start; we just have to wait and see if Dorsett and his political colleagues have the will power to truly execute its plans and move towards addressing this shantytown problem, instead of continually talking about it. It is now time for less talk and more action.
The Chancellor of West Germany said recently we need politicians. Why? To make tough decisions. I am saying, it's now time to make those tough decisions. Enforce the law and do it now!
God help us!
• William Wong is the president of Wong and Associates Realty. He was also a two-term president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and the Bahamas Real Estate Association. Questions or comments can be emailed to William@wongsrealty.com.