Dilemma of squatting: The Canefield East Experience
For Mishna "Snake" Gustave it was "an unjust and cruel act" to demolish his house in the controversial squatter's area in Canefield East two weeks ago.
"I am angry at what is going on; we need explanations from Housing and all...You cannot just come and break people house," he said angrily. "I have influence, we are not voting for no party if we can't get proper explanations. Tell the ministers don't come around us".
Another squatter, a mother of eight, cried when she saw Gustave's house being demolished.
"It could be my son," she said. "Haitians coming here and owning land, why a Dominican man can't own a piece of land. It is hurting me to see the poor boy trying to do something; they can give him a chance".
But before the prisoners and the police officers came to break down the houses of the squatters of Canefield East, the unauthorised occupants of the land were adequately warned. Earlier, the Ministry of Housing issued an announcement informing the squatters to vacate the area and demolish all structures they had erected by May 2, 2014.
"The government is very, very serious and wants to reiterate that if by the second of May, which is Friday, the persons who are illegally occupying government lands do not vacate those lands, the government will use powers in the law to ensure these people vacate government property," Minister of Housing Reginald Austrie told state-owned DBS Radio adding that Dominica is run by laws "and not men with guns and bows and arrows."
But many Dominicans have wondered whether Government could not found a more humane way of dealing with the issue of squatting at Canefield East. Apparently, it could.
In fact the Government's own consultant has provided a road-map for dealing with the issue of squatting. That advice is contained in a document entitled: The National Shelter Policy (Revised Draft) produced in 2008 for the Government of Dominica and the Caribbean Development Bank by consultants HABICO Planning + Architecture Ltd. Government paid US$ 246,000 for the document.
According to HABICO, "Dominica's squatter situation is well anchored in the history of settlement of the island" and the squatting situation was made worse when Hurricane David devastated Dominica's housing stock in 1979. In many cases the line between squatting and private property is sometimes blurred, the consultants stated.
"Squatters have a history of being secure in Dominica. Government is reluctant to remove anyone. Consequently the choice of free land with no possibility of being taxed is attractive. Squatting, however, produces negative community impacts through lack of control over health and safety standards: water, sanitation, drainage, appropriate topography, etc. Squatting needs to be discouraged, but viable options must be in place first".
And the consultant recommended that "future squatting should be eliminated through rigid government intervention and support for viable alternative shelter options", adding that "existing settlements must be frozen and recorded (air photos are the most effective) at a given cut-off date. All future squatting must be immediately removed".
In Action Plan #5 in the policy document titled: "Squatter Regularisation & Upgrading Programme", HABICO suggested a series of "procedures to guide government's action in squatter settlements regularisation and upgrading nationwide.
"The Squatter Regularisation and Upgrading Programme Action Plan is designed to be implemented incrementally through three phases: Preparation/Planning, Implementation and Management. Each phase encompasses a number of actions. These actions should be taken through a participatory process where community mobilisation and participation are crucial.
"Meetings should be held in the community, involving local residents, and minutes should be kept reflecting community common interest in regularising and upgrading their environment. A community leader and a deputy leader should be elected by residents through a democratic process."
Since that report was issued Government has actively proceeded with the implementation of a Squatter Regularisation Programme that the Minister of Housing said had touched the lives of over 500 families in 2011.
Austrie told parliament then that the Government of Dominica introduced the programme to provide nationals who had been squatting on Government properties for decades to actually own these properties by purchasing it from Government at one dollar per square foot.
"For this financial year, we have taken care of 72 families added to the 483 that had been done before. So to date, this Government has given 555 families land $1.00 a square foot. I have made the point that these lands cost between $5 and $8 a square foot. As a result, we have not only given them a piece of land at a dollar a square foot, we have also given them money because one from eight is seven," he said.
But earlier Austrie reported that defaulters owed government EC$ 20 million in unpaid amounts for allocated lands.
Freeness and dependency
That introduces the issue of dependency and its impact on development. Part of governments shelter programme has been implemented through a "Housing Revolution" that involves issuing houses to certain individuals free of cost. But HABICO was of the view that such non- participatory approaches to solving the shelter problems of Dominica creates dependency and "is one of the most powerful inhibitors of development. Human nature dictates that if you can get if for free why work?
"Dependency typically starts with good intentions as a rapid, simplistic and short-sighted response to a perceived situation of need, or as a short-term, politically expedient attempt to gain favour," the consultant stated. "Hand-outs typically come with little local participation, little evaluation, little prioritisation and consequently create no sense of local ownership. Hand-outs are typically what either the giver thinks is a good idea, or what the recipient thinks will be easiest to get, not necessarily what would emerge as sustainable priorities if needs were assessed through a comprehensive participatory process. Once established, it is difficult to reverse the situation and re-ignite self-motivated initiative and self-sufficiency. Examples abound of desperate societies with eroded social values, morals, and health where dependency has gained a foothold".