OPINION

Forest building

It’s the same old script: In the wake of devastating forest fires, especially those near urban centers, government officials have taken pains to convince the public that the burned areas will be fully reforested and that no illegal properties will be allowed. But each time, these promises remain unfulfilled. As soon as the media focuses on something new, the task of protecting the fire-ravaged areas gets compacted to its more convenient, bureaucratic dimension. That vacuum is soon filled by land-grabbers and property developers who operate under the nose of responsible officials. As soon as an illegal building has gone up, it’s already too late. Demolition rulings are only rarely executed. Prefects are reluctant to engage in conflict and invoke technical shortcomings to justify their inaction. These shortcomings become even more evident as the number of tagged properties rises. The conclusion is that despite the promises of government officials, one generation of illegal houses comes after the other. This, of course, sends a signal of impunity that exacerbates the problem. Preaching about how people must abide by the law is merely an evasion. We need a different approach. One idea would be to confiscate and then auction off illegal properties. Demolition – if necessary with the help of private companies – should be reserved for the most blatant violations. The cost of demolition should, by means of taxation, be laid on the lawbreakers. That should be enough to bring illegal construction to an end. No one would risk it knowing that they could lose their property. Moreover, the huge capital that has gone into illegal buildings wouldn’t be lost. In fact, money from the auctions could go into a special environmental fund. Unfortunately, politicians would merely laugh at ideas such as these. Particularly, in a campaign period like this one, when handouts pour down like rain.