By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is seeking to have Abaco’s five shanty towns removed as beneficiaries of a standing injunction prohibiting it from eradicating unregulated communities throughout The Bahamas.
The Office of the Attorney General, in a summons filed yesterday, asks Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson to vary her August 4, 2018 order by having Abaco shanty towns and its residents “excluded” as applicants in the matter.
The basis for the application for a variation, the government asserts, is that the “very basis” of the injunction has fallen away, as Hurricane Dorian virtually destroyed all of Abaco’s shanty towns.
According to the summons, there was “nearly 100 per cent” destruction” of houses in the Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks, Farm Road and Leisure Lee shanty town communities.
Before the hurricane decimated them, they had more than 1,000 homes and an estimated population size of 3,500, according to government reports.
“Accordingly, the very basis for the grant of the injunction has disappeared in relation to these communities,” the summons asserted.
Martin Lundy II, who represents the applicants in the matter, Respect Our Homes Limited (ROHL) and 177 shantytown residents from both New Providence and Abaco, requested an adjournment to give his legal team an opportunity to respond.
Last year, the government announced plans to demolish shantytowns nationwide. Residents in such communities on New Providence were given until August 10 of that year to leave while Abaco shantytown residents were given until July 31 of this year.
On August 4, 2018, Justice Grant-Thompson granted an injunction barring the Minnis administration from moving ahead with its August 10, 2018 eviction deadline for unregulated New Providence communities.
At the time, she prohibited the government, whether directly or through its agents, appointees or employees from taking possession of, demolishing any building on, or otherwise interfering with the 177 applicants’ and other residents’ and occupiers’ enjoyment of land in shantytowns in New Providence.
Justice Grant-Thompson also ordered government and utility providers to halt any planned service disconnections or evictions in shanty towns pending a judicial review of the Minnis administration’s policy to eradicate those communities.
Justice Grant-Thompson further prohibited any of the 177 applicants or other residents and occupiers of the land in shantytowns in New Providence from constructing, erecting and/or altering “any further buildings or structures otherwise than in accordance with the relevant laws”.
After Abaco’s shantytowns were demolished by Dorian, the Ministry of Housing and Environment issued an order prohibiting the construction of residential or commercial buildings in the Mudd, Pigeon Pea, Sand Bank and Farm Road communities.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis later announced that Mr Bethel had been instructed to compulsorily acquire land where those several communities once stood. The government had also started to clean the areas, including bulldozing a few existing structures in Sand Banks and Treasure Cay after Dr Minnis gave an order to do so.
At the time, Dr Minnis stressed that the government was intent on returning law and order to the country. He further asserted that those unregulated communities needed to be removed because they pose imminent health risks.
However, attorney Fred Smith, QC, said he believes the government is acting outside of the limits of its powers, and, he said, the government’s actions not only go against Justice Grant-Thompson’s injunction, but do not conform to the Acquisition of Lands Act.
He further accused Dr Minnis of heeding the cry of the “lynch mob” instead of rising above the fray to demonstrate respect for the rule of law and compassion for fellow Christians that have just suffered a terrible disaster.
In a 12-page strongly worded letter, Mr Smith said the law was not a one-way street and should be respected by the government as the same is required by citizens.
“Accordingly the injunction covers all shanty town land in New Providence as well as such land on Abaco as is occupied by specific applicants who are residents of shanty towns in Abaco,” the letter read. “We stress that recent events do not change the terms of the injunction, which remains in full force and effect unless and until varied by the court.
“Hurricane Dorian has not magically swept away their rights, as are being determined by this action,” Mr Smith’s letter asserted.
“…Nor can the injunction be overridden or side-stepped by the use of other executive powers, which are alarmingly being vocally expressed, in very draconian and terrifying terms, to our clients, by the executive. The use of such powers for that purpose would be improper. The injunction must be obeyed.”