Minister of Works Desmond Bannister.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ANY non-governmental organisation found employing or helping undocumented migrants build illegal structures on government land will be dealt with according to the law, according to Works Minister Desmond Bannister.
His comments came after he told reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday about the government’s plans to halt further unregulated development of shanty towns on Abaco. The issue of shanty towns resurfaced last week after aerial photos circulated online, showing new construction taking place in a shanty town community known as the Farm Road.
Yesterday, the minister questioned where shanty town dwellers may have gotten the “resources” to erect the unsanctioned structures.
He said: “The challenge that I have throughout the country right now is that these people are having the resources to put these buildings up and the questions I have to ask is where are they getting these resources from?
“Who is employing undocumented agents throughout the country where they get resources that they can have these buildings put up throughout the country and it’s not just Abaco. It’s happening in a lot of countries and in New Providence.
“And we as Bahamians as we look forward to celebrating our independence this week, we have to take a hard look at what we’re doing in our own country because at one hand we are giving people money to be able to do things and then the other hand, when they’re putting up these buildings, we’re trying to ask the government to stop it. “
In an interview with The Tribune last week, chairman of Treasure Cay local government Stephanie Hield said she believed shanty town dwellers were receiving building supplies from different NGOs and second homeowners on the island.
Some sources close to The Tribune have also noted that some were even being employed by the NGOs to assist with the recovery efforts on the island.
Asked about the matter yesterday, Mr Bannister said he was not aware of the situation, but will have the issue looked into.
“That’s the first time that I heard that and I will certainly raise that with my colleagues,” he said.
“But I don’t know of that happening and certainly if NGOs are not complying with the laws of The Bahamas, appropriate action will be taken because we can’t have anyone coming into the country and doing things that are against our laws.”
Before Hurricane Dorian decimated them last year, shanty towns across Abaco had more than 1,000 homes and an estimated population size of 3,500, according to government reports.
However, two weeks after the storm hit the island, the government issued an immediate ban on the construction of any new buildings in the four major shanty towns on Abaco.
To assist with the debris removal in the communities, the Minnis administration awarded contracts to several companies last year. Several shanty towns, including The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sandbanks, has since been cleared.
However, officials have faced obstacles in clearing the Farm Road community due to it being occupied by a number of inhabitants.
Noting that government is dealing with the situation lawfully, Mr Bannister said: “My offices from the ministry (in) Abaco has gone to everyone one of those new construction and affixed a notice on it. The law requires that we follow a particular process and so the first step in that process is to put notices on the buildings.
“After we follow that step, then there’s another step for us to follow and you will recall that when the government did not follow these steps was where the courts intervened, so we have to strictly follow the steps that the law requires.
“We have to ensure that we are ourselves law abiding even though the persons who put the shanty town buildings are not.”