A major showdown appears to be taking shape. We’re referring to the impending debacle between residents illegally settled in a specific area in Gray’s Farm and the government, through its division charged with development control.
The congested area in Perry Bay has been one of squalor for decades. It’s been rendered extremely flood prone by clogged drains and makeshift sewers. Developmental problems become most glaring in times of severe storms, when torrential rains cause areas to be impassable.
And with the drains not able to properly function, it means stagnant waters for long periods. It means ideal conditions for mosquito breeding and disease-spreading organisms. Of course such circumstances also make for fetid smells.
As our Monday issue reported, “Rusty galvanised fences, wooden houses constructed in a haphazard manner, cramped space and little or no sanitary conveniences paint a bleak picture of the many informal settlements…”
Such conditions have served as an eyesore over the decades and are brought to light with each passage of a major storm. After such an occurrence, the Development Control Authority had signalled its intention to move in on the area, but expressed concern for the squatters who were sure to have challenges uprooting and relocating. The issue was the amount of time the illegal settlers were given to find another home.
That was over a year ago. Since then, there have been many warnings coming from the Authority that squatting areas would be targeted, including Yorks, Pigotts and yes, Perry Bay, especially following completion of the National Physical Development Plan.
With a February 15 deadline to relocate, the countdown is on and so is the pressure.
Those of us on the outside looking in have been either sympathetic or apathetic in our views. The former are concerned about the squatters’ human rights. The argument is that they’ve been living in the situation for so long that their living arrangements should just be regularised. There’s nowhere else for them to go, is the cry.
Those who feel the clamp-down in the area was too long in coming argue that squatting is illegal and offenders have no rights. The feeling is that legal avenues are in place for residents to seek housing and the act of randomly picking a vacant spot and erecting living quarters there does not entitle one to legal occupancy.
And the fact that many of the squatters are not Antiguan and Barbudan citizens is more reason for them to face the wrath of the law and the public, is the view.
But let’s look at legal procedure for building: firstly, one must present a title deed proving ownership of the land on which they will build. They must then draft a plan of their desired dwelling which must be approved by the Authority.
These squatters would have gone through no such procedures. They just saw an area, decided they wanted to build there and did it. And just because they would have resided in their illegal quarters for years does not mean they should be entitled to remain.
Therefore the question is: Will the showdown happen? Or won’t it? The situation is politically charged and poses opportunities for the political parties to garner votes.
The parties could be viewed in two different lights: one that demonstrates care for the law and gets things done (government), and one that has compassion for the people and defends their human rights (opposition). In fact talk show hosts on the opposition aligned ZDK were indicating, Thursday January 31, that the squatters should be given a break, and their residence at Perry Bay regularised.
Nonetheless, the squatters are in a bind. Most likely, they’re in their current plight because they have no money to pay rent, none to construct a home. And the decade of notice made no difference to them because they’re in a dead-end situation.
Making things worse for many is that they are here illegally and are without the necessary documents to process other bureaucratic procedures necessary for living.
In any case, it’s a tough situation. Lives are involved. There’s no easy way to go about it but the law is the law and it must be respected by all.