A common sight in many communities across Barbados is the large number of vacant housing lots with thick, knee-high grass, overgrown bush and, in some cases, bits and pieces of garbage strewn all over the place because of illegal dumping.
In many cases, these lots are located next to occupied houses and put the value of these properties at risk of depreciation. They are not only an ugly eyesore but also represent a public health and safety hazard for nearby residents.
The thick bush and garbage not only provide breeding places for rats, mosquitoes, centipedes, and other vermin, but criminals looking to break into homes can also use these lots as hideouts as they wait for the opportunity to strike.
The failure of owners to live up to their responsibility to ensure these lots are kept clean, has presented a headache for health authorities over the years. Unable to locate the owners, nearby residents sometimes incur expense cleaning up these lots in the interest of their health and safety and that of their families.
In some cases, especially when the situation becomes really bad, Government undertakes the debushing of these lots at public expense. Notwithstanding these efforts, the problem seems to be getting worse, especially in the wake of public spending cuts which mean Government is unable to do as much as before.
During this week’s sitting of the House of Assembly, the problem of unkempt lots around the island came under scrutiny as lawmakers debated a bill related to the National Conservation Commission (NCC), the statutory body responsible for beautifying the island and ensuring a clean environment for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.
In his contribution to the debate, St James Central Member of Parliament Kerrie Symmonds put forward a solution which we endorse. He said the resources of the NCC could be used to clean up dirty lots in cases where owners were asked to do so but failed to comply, and the cost could be added to the owner’s annual land tax bill so that Government is assured of getting its money back.
“If a landowner has been written and notified that he is not maintaining the land, and given a second notice, I think the burden has been discharged in law,” said the opposition Barbados Labour Party legislator. “While he has the rights to own the land, he does not have the right to have that land being a nuisance to his neighbours.”
We hope Government gives serious consideration to this suggestion from Mr Symmonds. It offers a practical solution to a longstanding problem. To underscore its seriousness and determination to stamp out the problem and get landowners to live up to their responsibility, Government should go a step further and add a monetary penalty to the cleanup costs.
It is a sad commentary that as Barbados has become more developed, the beauty of the country has become despoiled as a result of the callousness of some persons. The problem goes way beyond landowners reneging on their responsibility to take care of their vacant lots. Look at the scale of indiscriminate dumping which takes places around the island! Pass any large, open space in a deserted area and you are almost certain to see old mattresses, stoves, and other discarded household items.
Take a look also at the side of our highways! There you will see pet bottles that contained soft drinks, fast food containers and other items thrown out, in some instances, by motorists as they drive by. When we lived in the traditional village setting and were not so well-off, we took great pride in keeping our surroundings clean. Christmas, in particular, was a time to spruce up home and community. The residential shift to the upscale “heights” and “terraces” seems to have brought about the opposite.
Indeed, Barbadians of yesteryear saw keeping their surroundings clean as a reflection of themselves. The well-known saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness”, summed up the attitude. Solving the problem of uncleanliness, whether in the form of overgrown vacant lots or the indiscriminate dumping of garbage, requires more than Government intervention through the passage and enforcement of legislation.
It also requires, more importantly, a return to the values of Barbados of yesteryear where everyone accepted it was his or her responsibility to contribute to keeping their surroundings clean. If everyone adopts this attitude, a cleaner Barbados definitely will be the result. What a fantastic gift that would be to Barbados to celebrate its 50th birthday next year!