Kiribati bureaucratic backlog creates squatters
Bureaucratic backlogs in Kiribati has forced some people into squatting for more than a decade.
An urban planning advisor says bureaucratic backlogs in Kiribati has forced people to live in squatter settlements for more than a decade.
Squatter settlements are a persistent issue in the country, and last year about 300 people were reportedly arrested for living illegally on Kiritimati Island.
But an urban planning advisor for Volunteer Services Abroad, Shifani Sood, told Daniela Maoate-Cox that changes to the land application process 15 years ago has created a bottleneck and people have settled illegally on land while waiting for approval.
SHIFANI SOOD: One of the major problems that government land has is squatters so there are a lot of illegal settlements and part of the reason is backlogs of applications that have not yet been assessed and people have settled on that land waiting for the approval to be granted, so you've got a bit of a dilemma where there's a big back log, these people have applied but it hasn't gone through the system as yet and part of my role was to get that going and clear that backlog. I can't say I've cleared the whole backlog but I've created a way for that to be done and the team's well equipped now to be able to move that on so it's in the process.
DANIELA MAOATE-COX: So that involved creating a system to deal with the backlog of applications?
SS: That's right, so it involves creating a database, finding all the physical files, putting them into a system and then creating a criteria of assessment and a way of bundling the applications together so they could be processed faster. If there were similar applications in a similar location, and had similar effects then we could assess them as a bundle and take them to the committees and have them assessed that way. So that process has been started, they've had an example, and now they're using that and moving forward.
DM-C: How far back does the backlog go?
SS: At least the last 15 years, it could span a little bit further than that. There was a bit of a legislation change and what happened was they got a huge influx of new applications come through and they changed the process of application assessments and in that process, somehow the applications started getting bottlenecked, they just weren't assessed so they've just been sitting there.
DM-C: So a result or side effect of that backlog is that some people have been technically squatting for about 15 years.
SS: Yes, yes people have been and being a squatter is actually quite common, you get people coming in from the outer islands who don't own any land and they will find any land that they can and they will settle into it. It's a process that happens and it's really hard to deal with for the government. Getting rid of people is always hard, you're trying to displace them and then they've got nowhere to go. So if you push them out from one area, they'll go and base themselves in another. The UN when I was there, was doing some really good work on moving people with dignity and finding other places for them, I don't know how far [along] that is but those kind of projects are certainly needed, where they can be moved but not displaced. So the government's got a real delicate balance to work with whether to push these people out or come up with a proper plan to move them in a way where they can sustain their livelihood.
DM-C: Especially if you're having to relocate people who have been in one spot for possibly over a decade, they've definitely set up roots and established themselves.
SS: Even if it's a day, if someone's come from an outer island, even if it's a day, it's really hard to move them outside because the land just isn't there, so if someone's put camp on a piece of land, where do you move them when you haven't got much land to move them to? People come to Tarawa because there's opportunities, you know it's the New York of Kiribati.
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