Columns

Squatters' rights and a 'brains champs'

Franklin Johnston

Friday, September 07, 2012    

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BY UK law S144 of 2012, as of September 1 squatting now is a crime and carries jail time. The police can now move squatters in residential property at once and arrest them. No more time wasting or costly court cases. We need laws to deal with squatting in a caring and just manner. As a tenant I found most owners decent, as my rent was their pension and needed protection like any other pension scheme. I admired the English when I discovered their charities for the homeless. I got a Squatters Handbook surprise! I found out how to squat, what to say and do if the owner or police visited. It blew my conscious mind! Squatting is universal. It grew after wars when the 19-year-old farmhand warriors came home to nothing and occupied lands on or near UK military bases.

Socialist UK governments created welfare for children, families and the unemployed. It seems strange that this one criminalises squatting. Why? Some of the vociferous opponents of squatting on UK talk radio are Jamaicans who worked hard and feel no one should get freebies they did not. UK Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said, "For too long squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs."

It's clear that if land owners play by the rules they get shafted and the homeless should not be their burden. The failure of our state to deal with the disadvantaged is a serious failure of accountability. We are all squatters. The Taino nations gave no permission for us to take their land. The Empire created a system and we use it callously. Squatting in Europe is mostly ideological - anarchists, anti-capitalist, communist recidivists; niche groups as artists, people with alternative lifestyles in communes, cash-less communities and the Roma (Gypsy) people. In Africa squatting abounds. In India some cities are 50 per cent squatters. Don't try to squat in China! As with us, it is sheer poverty, not ideology.

Squatting hit new heights in England and as recession deepens the state placates business. There are about 1 million vacant holiday homes, "flight" homes and if you "piss off" investors, if they feel property is unsafe, they walk. Like us, London has to prove itself to investors or lose "big time" When you add squatting to our crime and fear, we are in a bad place. Squatting hurts investment. So UK Housing Minister Schapps says he is "tipping the scale of justice back in favour of the home owner". Squatters do not help the economy, but investors give the nation the capacity to help the homeless. In this economic climate London has to reassure investors that it values and protects investment, so squatters are moved at once. A small thing, but it sends a signal that the economy is well managed.

We need an independent "Commission on Squatting". Squatters have metastasised across our nation like cancer and we need cures. Last year we were told of a million people in squats. Are they still there? We need data, a national colloquium and a dignified solution. We could have more private low-income housing, but for squatting and laws which inhibit investors. If we go the English route we criminalise half the nation. The other half is already criminalised by ganja, and this is unacceptable. The PNP was born a Social Democrat party, so the successors of Norman Manley, Michael Manley and PJ Patterson must deal with squatting decisively and humanely. Put the best legal, social and business minds to it. If we deal with squatting we are way ahead. We need more public parks as we can't all get a piece of land. By 2095 none may be left for commercial farming or for posterity.

Squatting is a function of access, politics and legal delays. It has been an issue since slavery; even so, many ex-slaves went into the hinterland and became the backbone of our productive peasantry. People squat for many reasons; for example, poverty, saving to buy a house, debt and divorce; some have a house, but hold a spot on a squat so when the politician comes to regularise the site he gets a piece; others just want to plant. Other countries have "plots" which landless people rent from the state. The squatter is more diligent at planting, for while the owner can keep his land idle, the squatter has to grow crops to assert his claim. Squatters and politicians are allies and the more power the MP has over public goods, the better the squatters' chances of getting a house at taxpayers' expense. No law-abiding poor squatter who moves on gets a free house. The gospel according to Pedro is "play by the rules and you get shafted". The corollary is "ugly up an gwaan bad an yu get tru". Selah!

Squatting is a symptom of irresponsibility, indiscipline. Squatting in the UK may be different. It is a prosperous country for decades and has good welfare systems, so usually migrants and the ideological are the ones who squat. But here the link between politicians and squatters is surreal. I was told that one MP was roundly abused by another from an opposing party for the dastardly deed of trying to help squatters with food and water in said MP's adjacent garrison without his permission. "If I want to let them starve that is none of your business; they are mine, keep to your own people!" Squatters are pawns of corrupt politicians. A Squatting Commission may save them and us. We need a national psychiatrist.

Academic Olympics

Some e-mailers opine that I "big up" self last week. Now hear this! Does Mr Bolt flaunt his excellence at sprint? Did he work for years to gain his prowess? So did I. Bolt motivates boys to sporting success; why can't I motivate some to academic excellence? He developed an excellent body. I an excellent mind. Until and unless we put academic achievement on the level we do sports, boys will continue to underperform. Minister Thwaites, we need the "brains champs" you spoke of, so top students get the prize money athletes do. Youth will then buckle down to study. There is nothing wrong with our boys. Males were ahead for years at school and UWI, and no one said anything was wrong with girls. "Girl catch-up now, an' bwoy a bawl how 'im 'ed a at 'im an' 'im want brain scan, nuff res', video game an' food". Why is it right for Usain to parade his athletic skills, but wrong for men with academic prowess to do the same? He can big up his coaches and tutors, but I can't big up mine? I may not be as fast, but Usain can't do what I do. Society says, "People, educate yourselves," and when we do they say, "Ah nuh nutten!" But run fast and "we a god!" Is study second fiddle to sport? I work to be the best at what I do and I am on a mission to inspire boys to success in the brains department - don't criticise, join me! I get e-mails from the youth. I am gratified they read my stream-of-consciousness rant. Some are über smart so I am hopeful for my nation. Big up brainy people! Which firm will now offer $1m to the top brainy youth? Any endorsement contracts? Put your money where your mouth is. Be conscious!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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