But our work was not to focus on the big infrastructural projects here. Tony was concerned that we look at a much more serious planning issue in this part of the island; that of squatters. Now when I have been told about squatters in most other parts of the world, I see shanty towns, informal settlements, whatever you want to call them, on the edge of the roadside taking over a scrap of land that had not been used, or had gone out of agricultural production. Tony drove us over to one of the squatter houses is this area. Turning off the main road and heading towards the coast the ground became open and grassy, the result of heavy grazing by goats, and peppered across the landscape was a mixture of chattel houses, concrete villas and , most bizarrely, some three storey, 8 bedroom mansions. I said to Tony that the owners there must be a bit peeved that the squatters were just randomly eating up the surrounding land. Tony smiled at me – the guy who has built that mansion, he said, is also squatting. He never bought the rights to that land. But the government has never been able to take any action against him.
The problem of squatting in a small island is not all about the landless trying to find places to build their homes. Some people seek the advantage to take on what is known to be abandoned land without going through all the paperwork, and because family ties are strong and populations small, some find they are not challenged by the official “authorities” as they know someone who can sit on the little administrator and keep them quiet.
But spending huge amounts of money building a large modern mansion complete with external walls and lavish metal gates on land you did not own did seem a tad audacious. It really did cock a snoop at those honest civil servants who are trying to manage the whole country’s interests.