Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Outlaw this squatting


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ONCE AGAIN the issue of squatting has reached the headlines, but this time the situation was perhaps more drama-laden with the water supply used by the squatters in Odessa Maclean Avenue in the My Lord’s Hill area being abruptly stopped on Wednesday last.The issue is made a little more difficult to unravel when we realise that the water supply is being tapped from a sub station of the National Petroleum Corporation, a public corporation, and that the squatters are not, connected to the national water grid, but are receiving a “free” water supply, in addition to which, as squatters, they pay no land rent and acknowledge no landlord. It is not a healthy situation, since water is an essential requirement for healthy modern living, and squatting challenges the social system in that the squatters are by definition not occupying their own land, but someone else’s; an activity which can often lead to social unrest and breaches of the peace, and may itself be the result of earlier social dislocation.Needless to say, the politicians became involved, and after consultations involving Mr Kenneth Best, MP for the area, Minister of Social Care Chris Sinckler, Minister responsible for the NPC, Senator Darcy Boyce, Minister in charge of the BWA, Dr Denis Lowe, and the then Acting Prime Minister Ronald Jones, Mr Best informed the media that water was “temporarily” turned on for health and humanitarian reasons. This was done on Friday last at 4:15 p.m. after the squatters had been without the water supply for almost three days.In the circumstances this was the right decision since this problem of squatting in that area began in the late 1980s and has survived for almost 30 years straddling both political administrations, during that time without a satisfactory resolution; and what Barbadians might call “a hot and sweaty decision” was not going to  do anyone any good.The slew of ministerial consultations became necessary because the NPC was being saddled with the monthly bill for the supply of this water, said to be in excess of $1 000 a month. According to the former parliamentary representative Mr Trevor Prescod, “six years ago it was decided that the NPC would continue to pay the bill, but the water would be used for domestic purposes only.”Clearly that decision could not have been anything but another temporary solution, because in a sense it compounded the initial iniquity of the act of squatting by supplying water from a state agency with the monthly bill being paid for by the NPC. It is time enough for this bull to be taken by the horns. Squatting is an activity embedded in the crevices of the development of English land law and we have recognised the legal implications of this behaviour which starts out as a trespass on the land of another, but may ripen into a possessory title through long-time occupation of that other person’s land. It is therefore a two-edged sword fraught with complexity both for the squatter and the “owner” of the land. These legal principles need to be re-examined and squatting should be outlawed!The proximity of this location in the Zone 1 closest to the island’s water production wells complicates this particular problem because contamination of the supply may occur in the absence of a septic tank facilities; but the provision of such a facility might encourage the belief of would be squatters elsewhere that such squatting is the way to go.We commend Mr Best for adamantly driving home the point that “squatting was not supported by Government”. This point has to be made time and again, for widespread social disruption and breaches of the peace will be the inevitable outcome if squatting catches on as acceptable activity. The law must be changed!


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