Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister said yesterday Bahamians should reflect on hiring undocumented immigrants this independence season as he discussed the threat of a shanty town on Abaco.
Speaking to reporters at the House of Assembly, Mr Bannister said ministry officials are monitoring the Farm Road shanty town.
“What happened in Abaco is that the ministry was supposed to clear four shanty towns,” he said.
“We cleared three. We couldn’t clear the Farm because there were families actually living there and there are 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 appropriate authorities are seeking to get the appropriate authorisation so that we can clear the Farm. In the interim, I know there have been some new attempts at construction there. In every one of those places where people have started new construction, the ministry’s office in Abaco has gone there and fixed statutory notices.
“Before we demolish anything, the law requires us to affix notices to the residences so we have affixed those notices, our offices in Abaco are monitoring everything that happens there. We have to follow a certain procedure to do what we have to do. If we don’t follow those procedures we’ll end up in court again so the challenge is to follow the process, to abide by the law, to follow the directions that the law provide and do it in a lawful manner.”
Mr Bannister was asked if he is concerned that the community could grow substantially by the time officials secure the authorisation needed to clear newly constructed buildings.
“I think nationally we have to look at addressing this whole thing,” he said. “We’ve allowed this thing to happen in this country for 50 years. Every island I go to I see these residences. Our people have become a bit complacent in it because we hire people throughout this country.
“You have to ask yourself, where are these illegal residents working, what jobs are they going to, who’s hiring them? How do they have money to do these things? And when you ask these questions, you have to ask, are we working against ourselves as Bahamians? Whether we really want to tackle the problems that affect the country, whether we really want to place the name and responsibility of government agencies as opposed to ensuring that we live up to our obligations as Bahamian citizens and I think it’s an appropriate time to ask that question coming up to independence. Who’s been hiring hundreds of hundreds of people? Eleuthera, Exuma, Andros, all these communities, people who are undocumented (are being hired). It’s a very serious question for us to ask ourselves at independence.”
Last week, Abaco residents raised alarm over unsanctioned construction in shanty town communities on the island, saying it is unfair some people are being allowed certain liberties, while others are being treated like “fourth class citizens” in their own country. Residents are concerned if the matter is not dealt with soon it could mirror the pre-Dorian situation which saw several large unregulated shanty towns on the island.