Who Gets House
HOUSING, POLITICS AND POVERTY: Sanford says government's housing policy in the Kalinago Territory is discriminatory.
The picture speaks a most powerful one thousand words. These are words we cannot dare contemplate. Here's a man dressed in short blue jeans and a bright red T-shirt, the words "Together we Must" emblazoned boldly on his back, standing alone in an old wooden, wobbly shack long past its expiry date. And we can only guess what he's doing.
"He's blind. His story is (a) sad (one)," Claudius Sanford, a former deputy leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), told The Sun.
Here he is seemingly seeking support from a tired, worn and virtually worthless cabin, with visible spaces between the apparent rotting boards which clearly are unable to provide protection from howling winds or driving rains. There's a certain emptiness about this shack, with nothing but cold ground beneath the man's feet and what appears to be a wooden bench made up of one board and a few tree limbs for support.
"That's his bed," Sanford told The Sun in a telephone interview.
Here's a man for whom getting a comfortable night's rest is an almighty scrap, his story a sad slide towards oblivion.
According to Sanford, five people share this horrifying nightmare which they call home. There's the blind man in the red shirt, he said, a brother with "a bad leg" who has difficulty walking, a younger brother who isn't working and two other men, including one who has a skin disorder. What the picture doesn't show, Sanford suggested, is how destitute they really are.
"The guy with the red shirt, if he goes out and he doesn't come back before dark, he sleeps on the ground."
There's the other picture which tells the story in a manner we dare not try, with words we need not express. It's something like an igloo but made of tin sheeting, fitted loosely.
There's a man sneaking into the tin sheeting contraption, pausing long enough to allow his picture to be taken. It's difficult to tell what's inside, but it's easy to imagine the depravation.
"His house is damaged…so he puts this up and at night he crawls in underneath it with his girlfriend," Sanford revealed.
These two stories are a microcosm of the dire housing situation facing the Kalinago people, the former opposition senator told The Sun.
"This is a real situation, this is no fabrication."
These pictures also speak thousands of powerful words about the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) government's housing policy, Sanford said.
According to the former UWP second-in-command, the administration is engaging in a dangerous and unfair practice of "political nepotism" in the Kalinago housing project. In other words, he suggested, houses are given not to the most needy but to the most vocal DLP supporter.
To strengthen his argument, Sanford cited several examples of undeserving people who received homes, including a couple whom he said were given a house, but "both of them drive a car".
Sanford implied that this practice leads to the disgraceful junking of the fraternal collectivism that has long been one of the finer qualities of a well-knit people who have formed a sacred partnership. In fact, he said, this practice by the administration has shattered the reality of sweat-drenched, mud‑clogged, blistered men roped together, nobly persevering and working as a community that is its brother's and sister's keeper.
"They are destroying the koudmen spirit. People will ask 'why should I help this person when they get house free and I who need it cannot get?' It goes deeper than just the surface politics, it has implications for our culture," he opined.
The housing minister, Reginald Austrie, has admitted that "the housing situation in the Carib Territory is terrible" but dismissed Sanford's claims that the administration was demonstrating witchy or transgressive behaviour.
Austrie explained that "an independent committee" which includes representatives from the department of Carib affairs and the Carib Council makes the selections from a "Master List" of applicants.
"We deliberately put it in the hands of an independent committee," the minister said, "They are the ones that deal with the selection. If it's political, it's Carib Territory politics."
Austrie explained that 41 houses were built with funds from Venezuela, 30 of which were given as "social housing" where the recipients got them at no cost. The remainder, he said, were sold at EC$30,000 each, well below the market value.
"Even so, we are getting trouble getting paid," the minister said.
There's also the Chinese funded project, under which ten houses have been completed and given as "social housing" with another ten being built. The ten following that will be assigned to people who have the land but can't afford to build.
"Again, the recommendations come from the committee. That's how the thing is being done," Austrie said.
Still, for Claudius Stanford, the policy lacks clarity or conciseness and the approach is somewhat diffuse and exploitative.
The pictures, he suggested, tell the painful story. And, like the man in the wooden, wobbly shack, there's none so blind.