We must state upfront we do not condone illegal squatting. But we understand how and why people, ofttimes encouraged by politicians, find themselves in this precarious situation.
Successive governments have failed to provide low-income housing at the same pace as the demand. While we have a history of living in extended families, the feeling of independence becomes crucial especially as our citizenry seek to build their own families.
Earlier this year during the Estimates debate, former Minister of Housing George Payne accused his Government of moving away from its primary role of providing housing for the poor.
Only this week at the groundbreaking of a housing project in Christ Church, Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared that solutions were coming for low income earners. and we anxiously await the delivery of her pledge.
The PM said: “There is a category of persons in this country who does not earn $2,000 easily, or even if they do, does not earn in a sustained way such that the bank or the credit union is going to take comfort in giving them a mortgage. This country must see them…”
As it relates to some in the Rastafari faith, living in a natural habitat as well as operating as a community away from “the system” they see as oppressive, is a must.
So it was jarring to discover that an area in The Pine Basin where a Rastafari community has called home for over 40 years was being “uprooted” by the Ministry of Transport and Works.
We are fully aware that Government does not need permission to develop or use its own land. That is not our issue. But as an administration that continually prides itself in being of the people and for the people, the lack of engagement with the Rastafari community leaves much to be desired.
Reports indicate that the head of a household of four, Ras Ijuijah, said they were living in the area for over 30 years.
The elder said: “I was on the verge of rebuilding because it was leaking so I gathered wood with the intentions to rebuild. After I came I started to resurrect the gardens, cleaning it up, just one day I come and see the bulldozer wipe out all of I history.
“All I fruit trees, all gone. Since I have been here I never showed the ministry any disrespect. I never gave them any trouble. They went and deal in a more respectful way with the people up at the airport. I didn’t even know they was gine do this, they didn’t tell I anything.”
St Michael East MP Trevor Prescod, who has chastised his Government, was visibly upset when he spoke to Barbados TODAY.
The irate MP said: “They are not nuisances. They didn’t come down here and disrupt the entire social and physical environment down here.
“Nobody over the years has ever indicated they were offended, now all of a sudden a Government that is taking a direction on economic enfranchisement and reparation come in the bottom totally disrespecting the Rastafari family.
“They never engaged in any conversation but sent in a bulldozer to push down all the trees down here. Disrupt the entire group, you can’t expect Prescod to be silent.”
A bland statement Thursday from the Ministry of Transport sought to explain the bulldozing but did not directly address the concerns of Ras Ijuijah or MP Prescod with respect to lack of notice and dialogue.
The release mainly stated the purpose of the bulldozing and as though the Rastafari community had been invisible, it did not address the disruption to their lives.
The statement read in part: “The Ministry of Transport, Works and Water Resources is strongly refuting the claims made . . . where a family occupying an area of land directly behind the Ministry’s headquarters in The Pine is ‘questioning the bulldozing of their home and destruction of full-grown fruit trees’. For the past two weeks personnel have been clearing the watercourse in The Pine Basin as part of the flood mitigation programme.”
The statement went on to speak to Government’s commitment to mitigating against flooding, clearing watercourses, constructing retention and detention ponds to control stormwater flow and the like.
Interestingly, since the Rastafari family has been at the location for more than three decades, the statement did not indicate why it took three decades to address a problem it suggested was at the root of the ministry’s action.
Ironically, these folk are no strangers to the Government. The Rastafari family, led by Ras Ijuijah, were brought to the public’s eye in 2013 when they refused to send their children to school and opted for homeschooling instead. It was a matter that reached the law courts and the family elders’ actions were vindicated when three years later, Government’s case against them was dismissed.
We can understand why Ras Ijuijah would take great issue with what transpired on Wednesday. He is now facing another challenge to his family life created by The System.
We hope an amicable resolution can be found in this latest saga.