Minister of Works and Family Island Affairs, the Hon. Clay Sweeting.
Minister of Works and Family Island Affairs, the Hon. Clay Sweeting.

Minister of Works and Family Island Affairs, and Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera, the Hon. Clay Sweeting, updated the nation on the government’s ongoing multi-island plan to eliminate unregulated communities throughout the country, during the weekly press briefing at the Bahamas’ Office of the Prime Minister on Thursday, March 14th, 2024.

Acting Press Secretary, Mrs. Keishla Adderley, as she introduced Minister Sweeting ahead of his presentation, stated, “Minister Clay Sweeting has led a taskforce, which has investigated, given notice, and executed the removal of a network of unregulated housing, here in New Providence and in Abaco, and Eleuthera is next on that schedule.”

Minister Sweeting in his update informed, “In regards to the demolition of illegal structures in unregulated communities throughout communities in The Bahamas – it cannot be stated enough – that these communities are a danger to our country. They are both environmental and health safety concerns.

“It is the government’s mandate, to ensure the safety and welfare of citizens and lawful residents. The decision to tackle these unregulated communities may be uncomfortable and a tough pill to swallow for some – especially those who may have to vacate these shanty towns. But this administration is committed to tackling this vexing issue. It is the right thing to do.”

He continued, “To date, nearly 300 illegal structures have been demolished across New Providence and Abaco. The taskforce is traveling to Eleuthera next week (week of March 18th) to conduct investigations into shanty towns on that island. The team has already completed an initial assessment on the island, and are moving into the second phase of the process. So, over the course of the next few months, the team will ensure that these areas are monitored to prevent reoccupation.”

Minister Sweeting also highlighted that the focus was not purely on immigrant housing, saying, “Let me just say here that the focus is not just solely on shanty towns and foreign migrants – in some cases also, Bahamians. The building control department within the Ministry of Works and Family Island Affairs will be going after all unregulated structures, which means all buildings that have not been approved by the Ministry of Works.”

Speaking to upcoming improved efficiencies in terms of building control services and processes, Minister Sweeting shared, “We committed to the digitization of the Ministry of Works and Family Island Affairs. The Digitization and Transformation Unit (DTU) has updated eighteen services, focusing on the building control section of the Ministry of Works. These services are being vetted by our team for final approval before going live. We are also assessing our services in providing building control approvals and other processes. It is our goal to modernize, to streamline, and to make the Ministry of Works and Family Island Affairs more efficient.”

In the question and answer segment following the minister’s presentation, he commented on a situation brought to the fore in Abaco, where several residents of illegal structures with children, who were were given additional time to vacate, because they had not taken the ministry’s notice of demolition seriously, and said, “If we say that we are coming to deal with the issue, I want to reiterate that the taskforce will be there to deal with the issue.”

Tackling a question about working with utility companies and their possible losses as a result of the demolitions, the minister informed that in reality, most of the homes demolished (90%) had no running water or connection with formal utility companies, citing a practice observed with electricity access, saying, “There seems to be a trend, where persons take advantage of and utilize the situation in these communities by providing generator power, and charge them as if they are a utility company.”

Veering to another area of responsibility within his portfolio (Family Island Affairs), Minister Sweeting was also asked about the status of the to-be-updated Local Government Act, expected following a 19-member team tour to garner feedback from the different Family Islands and the local councils throughout the country in 2022. The anticipated amendments to the Act, would include – confirmed the minister, expanded abilities by local councils to raise revenue, allowing them to do more for their communities. Sweeting, who did express his hope that the draft would be completed soon, declined to offer a timeline, but informed that the draft of the amended Act was currently with the Attorney General’s office, where it was being scrutinized to ensure its harmony with other relevant legislation.

Three days later, on Monday evening, March 18th, 2024, Minister Clay Sweeting was in Eleuthera, with Local Government officials, a Ministry of Works team, Island Administrators and members of the Unregulated Community Taskforce, attending a town meeting, hosted at Global Outreach Ministries church in James’ Cistern. “Tonight’s focus”, he said, “is mainly to deal with the Unregulated Community Taskforce – for communities that have any questions, concerns, queries, or some information they want to provide. We are also open to all other concerns that we can assist with, but the main focus is to deal with the taskforce. They are now on the island, and dealing with communities that are unregulated – and posting 28 day notices, if things are not in order; if they don’t have building permit approved; or they don’t own the land and the like – the taskforce will deal with it.”

Superintendent Stephen Carey out of New Providence, with resposibility for the taskforce, answering a question from the audience of community members about notice time given to people on the island in unregulated structures, informed, “The minister has been announcing in the news for quite some time now that the taskforce would be in Eleuthera as of March 17th, 2024. Thus far, we were in Spanish Wells today [March 18th], and we have been in Blackwood. On Wednesday we will be in Palmetto Point, Rock Sound and in Green Castle. Those are the places that we have gotten information on where they have unregulated communities. So, those will be the places that we investigate during the course of the week.”