Categorized | National News

Group Threatens To Sue Over Shanytowns

The law firm Callenders has warned  the Attorney General, Carl Bethel of  its intention to  commence  legal proceedings, challenging the government’s policy to eliminate Shantytowns across The Bahamas.

In  a  letter  signed by  Queens Counsel Fred Smith,  the lawyers sent an urgent request for the government, as well as utility providers, not to enforce the policy by the August 10th eviction deadline. 

Mr. Smith wrote: “the government’s policy to eradicate, bulldoze, destroy and eliminate unregulated communities is unconstitutional and infringes the guarantee against freedom from discrimination embodied in article 27 of the Constitution.”

Callenders is representing  “Respect Our Homes Limited,” a non-government organization formed to advocate the human rights causes of Shantytown residents in the Bahamas, as well as approximately 200 Shantytown residents in New Providence and Abaco. 

Mr. Smith said, “the government has not articulated, and does not have any immediate legal right to possession of the land. In particular, no  provision of the Buildings Regulations Act entitles the government to take possession of the land.”

The letter highlighted several newspaper articles dated from February 2018 to July 2018, where the government spoke about the process of the removal of Shantytown residents.  

According to the letter, the argument is that the government has not conducted any town hall meetings in each unregulated community or surrounding subdivisions over the government’s eradication policy, nor has the government disclosed to residents the three-page action plan which the minister of labour alluded to in February 2018.

“Disclosure of the action plan would enable residents of those unregulated communities to make informed representations as and when proper consultation is embarked upon,” it said.

“In addition, as far as our clients are aware, the government has not disclosed the Building Assessment Report that was conducted by the Ministry of Works, nor has the government disclosed whether or not it has consulted any International Organizations and if so, the representations made by such organizations.”

It is the government’s plan that once the unregulated communities are cleared, it intends to take possession of the land, using it to develop subdivisions for Bahamians to purchase at a reduced price. 

“The Building Regulations Act does not confer upon the government any authority to eliminate entire communities (thereby causing entire populations therein to be displaced) nor does the Buildings Regulation Act authorize the government to take possession land in such a brutal manner or otherwise.

“As far as our clients are aware, neither the government nor the relevant utility companies have disclosed their respective action plans to disconnect services to residents in unregulated communities, nor have they disclosed any legal basis for implementing such action plans.”

Mr. Smith  stressed that his  clients intend to file an action in the Supreme Court to protect their rights as soon as possible.

“We therefore ask the Attorney General (acting on behalf of the government) and each utility company or service provider to provide by return, a written undertaking that until trial of the Supreme Court Action brought by Respect Our Homes Limited in respect of the government’s policy to eliminate unregulated communities in The Bahamas, the government and each utility company or service provider (whether by themselves, or their agents, or employees) shall not:

“Seek to take possession or take possession of any land forming part of an unregulated community otherwise known as a “shantytown” in The Bahamas, wherever located other than by due process of law through the courts. 

“Demolish or cause the demolition of any building standing on land forming part of such an regulated community. 

“Disconnect or cause the disconnection of any supply of water, power, sewerage or telecommunications services to any part of such an unregulated community other than pursuant to governing statutory law. 

“In any other way interfere with the quiet enjoyment of the home and property of any person living in such an unregulated community.”

The letter ended by saying the group would seek to agree directions for the orderly determination of the proceedings. 

The letter was addressed to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Senator Dion Foulkes, Attorney General Carl Bethel, Minister of Works Desmond Bannister, Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands, WSC General Manager Elwood Donaldson, and BPL Manager Whitney Heastie. 

Written by Jones Bahamas

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