Instead of supporting squatting, Senator Frazer Binns...Wednesday, November 17, 2021
For decades squatting has been a major problem in Jamaica. Successive governments have tinkered with it, dancing through the raindrops as they acknowledge its illegality while trying not to enrage the squatters, their relatives, and friends for fear that such anger will be expressed at the ballot.
So what we have seen over the years are moves at formalising what are deemed to be informal settlements, and politicians from both sides of the divide have shamelessly sought mileage from what they have termed titling ceremonies.
There's no doubt that too many Jamaicans are still living in conditions that are less than acceptable. Some years ago we were told that more than 740 squatter communities existed across the country. That is an issue that the country needs to address with all seriousness if we intend to correct the many social ills that afflict us.
However, legitimising illegality cannot be the way forward, so that's why each time we see our legislators going down that path it gives us cause for great concern.
The latest drivel was delivered in the Upper House last Friday by Opposition Senator Sophia Frazer Binns, who basically argued that the State should urgently remove the 60-year provision in law that people who have been squatting on Crown lands must satisfy before they can pursue legal ownership.
Senator Frazer Binns wants that 60-year provision reduced to 12 years, as obtains with private lands.
According to her, many Jamaicans who never before could have owned a piece of land can now do so legally, yet the same legislation that says you can own private land after 12 years states that in order to own government land you have to be in possession for 60 years.
“We cannot be serious about titling and continue to place this burden on so many Jamaicans who, but for the land being government lands, would have acquired ownership years ago,” she said.
So, instead of arguing that squatting is wrong, Senator Frazer Binns is making a case for widening the spread of the law's folly.
We recall that in 2012 then minister without portfolio in the housing ministry, Dr Morais Guy, told residents at a function in St Mary that the Government was moving to enact legislation to make squatting a criminal offence.
That position received widespread support because there is a general acceptance that occupation of other people's property is not only illegal, it contributes to social disorder. It also inhibits investment, as potential entrepreneurs whose buildings and lands have been captured, or who have witnessed such occurrences, will obviously have reason to believe that there is not enough protection for them to risk doing business.
As the situation now stands, it is difficult, even with a court order, to regain possession of captured land for fear of violence and the interference of politicians.
Instead of supporting squatting we would expect legislators to use their platform of privilege to push the Government to place heavy focus on education and creating the climate for investment which, in turn, will provide jobs that will give people the economic power to purchase property.
Additionally, there needs to be a culture change among those politicians who have been turning a blind eye to squatting, or who have been encouraging it because they value such communities as safe pockets of votes.