Nearly a million Jamaicans on stolen land

THE NUMBER of Jamaicans living in squatter settlements across the island could soon rush past the one million mark, with one-third of the population, or about 900,000 persons, occupying lands illegally.
Concerns were raised during yesterday’s sitting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament about an insufficient sum set aside in the 2009-10 Estimates of Expenditure to deal with squatter management.

The document shows almost $6 million allocated to the Ministry of Water and Housing’s Squatter Management Unit.

In the 2008-2009 Budget, some $8.7 million was earmarked for squatter management, but this was later reduced to $4.8 million in the revised estimates.

Opposition Spokesman on Housing Robert Pickersgill questioned whether four persons employed to the Squatter Management Unit could handle what appeared to be a national problem.

Multi-faceted programme

Water and Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang said the Government was working on a multi-faceted programme to tackle squatting.

The Squatter Management Unit was established in April 2008 to curtail the proliferation of squatting and encourage planned development. There are at least 700 squatter settlements in the country.

Part of the unit’s mandate is to develop a national squatter-management policy to address issues related to illegal occupation of land.

At least three parishes were identified as having a growing squatter problem. They are St James, St Ann and Clarendon.

It was revealed that in Montego Bay alone there were about 30,000 „squatter solutions“.

Dr Chang said the Squatter Management Unit received support from field officers and housing officers from other government agencies to monitor areas and prevent the mushrooming of informal settlements.

Persons who occupy lands illegally cannot be removed that easily, according to the minister. He said the authorities could demolish a structure that was erected but not yet occupied. However, he said if a person built a house on government lands and resided there, it would be difficult to carry out immediate eviction.

Member of Parliament for South St Andrew, Dr Omar Davies, urged the Government to focus on the very serious issue of squatting, which gave rise to other social challenges.

Davies suggested that the ministry should reassign technical officers in other agencies to help reduce the growing phenomenon.