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JIS News

Senior Director for the Land Administration and Management Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Mohini Kiswani, has said that the Ministry’s recently established Squatter Management Unit was making inroads in addressing the problem of informal settlements.
Dr. Kiswani, who spoke to JIS News after a site visit which the Unit conducted in the Rocky Point area in Clarendon last week, said that, “the squatters up there are interested to get regularized. The site visit enabled us to have a good knowledge on the type of facilities available”.
She noted that while the site visit had highlighted issues such as inadequate basic services, the Unit would have to undertake additional research before proposals could be finalized for regularization, in addition to working with other bodies such as the Ministry of Local Government and the Environment, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), National Investment Bank of Jamaica (NIBJ), and the parish council.
According to Dr. Kiswani, the Ministry “would definitely like to regularize everybody and have planned development all over the island, people are squatting in environmentally fragile areas and many other areas that are not desirable, so we will not be able to regularize everybody”.
She pointed out that, “those [areas] that we can regularize would be areas where they have adequate infrastructure and are willing to partner with the government to help themselves,” noting that the cooperation of residents in squatter settlements was important to the process.
Notwithstanding the role of the Unit to rid Jamaica of informal settlements, especially in environmentally fragile areas, Dr. Kiswani guarded that “the main focus is prevention”.
Outlining the procedure for regularizing informal settlements, Dr. Kiswani detailed that persons must first receive permission from the landowner. In the case of government-owned lands, the individual must write a letter to the Commissioner of Lands indicating interest. Based on the availability and suitability of land for the purpose requested, the Commissioner will refer its recommendation to the Land Divestment Committee, which will review the application and make its recommendation to the Minister, who will give final approval.
Dr. Kiswani told JIS News that while the majority of calls to the Squatter Management Unit were from private landowners, the Unit was now focused on government-owned lands, based on the fact that “80 per cent of squatters are on government-owned lands”.
She however indicated that “we will assist the private sector wherever possible by guiding them as to how they should approach the problem,” while urging them to observe due process outlined in the legislature to give notice to squatters and prosecute as the need arose.
Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Roger Clarke, formally launched the Squatter Management Unit last month, as part of government’s efforts to address the problem of informal settlements in the island.
At the time, he explained that the Ministry had collaborated with all related government agencies to draft guidelines for a three-pronged approach to deal with squatting. The agreed measures include regularization, relocation and in extreme cases, eviction.
“This will entail the regularization of existing squatter settlements and the more critical issue, which is prevention. In instances where existing settlements are too large or pose danger to the environment, they will be regularized in order to develop them into acceptable housing solutions,” he informed.
He also stressed the responsibility of squatters to contribute to the provision of the necessary infrastructure and the cost of the land.Persons may contact the Squatter Management Unit at 1-888-977-7344.