Categorized | Business, Featured, National News

Smith: Country Being Ran Like a Dictatorship

Leading attorney Fred Smith urged the government to stop running the country “like a dictatorship” and live up to its legal obligation to introduce a land use plan (LUP) for New Providence.

Smith, legal director of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy movement Save The Bays (STB), pointed out that the creation of an LUP was mandated in the 2011 Planning and Subdivision Act, yet the government has sat through more than half its current term with producing one – or informing the public of when it plans to.

“The failure to fulfill a legal duty to introduce an LUP for New Providence is yet another example of the executive acting as if it can just ignore the legislature with impunity. We have three branches of government, all of equal consequence. The prime minister is not the king of The Bahamas,” he said.

“Yet through successive governments, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has run this country as if it were a dictatorship, or some feudal aristocracy where those at the top can do as they please and answer to no one.”

Smith compared the failure to enact an LUP to other examples of politicians flouting the law, such as the failure of several parliamentarians to declare their assets in accordance with the Parliamentary Elections Act.

The attorney explained that an LUP would set rules and guidelines in an effort to make development in The Bahamas more rational, more efficient, and crucially, more ethical.

In most developed countries around the world, land-use planning is employed in an effort to protect natural resources, avoid potential land disputes and provide a vision of future possibilities for the orderly growth of neighborhoods and communities, he said.

“Currently, we live in the Wild Wild West of unregulated development, where wealthy foreigners can come in – with the acquiescence of government officials hopeful of campaign donations – and build however and whatever they see fit, no matter what the longterm consequences,” Smith said.

He said this frequently leads to monumental environmental destruction, a disregard for the traditional customs and culture of local communities, and causes social upheaval and economic uncertainty.

“Always, the politicians and developers promise us jobs, jobs, jobs, but too often these fail to materialize or prove to be unsustainable. Meanwhile, the question of what kind of Bahamas we are building for our children through these short-term, quick-fix solutions is hardly ever asked,” Smith said.

“In the service of this system which benefits developers and politicians but leaves the average Bahamian, particularly in The Family Islands, out in the cold, the integrity of our legal system is being systematically eroded, to the point where Acts of Parliament can be ignored.”

Smith said an LUP should be in place not just for New Providence but also the Family Islands. He added that the Local Government Act needs to be amended to give real power to local communities.

Each island, he said, should be able to envision and create its own future, with District Councils empowered to levy taxes, pass by-laws and enforce them, and control town planning and Crown Land use – just as in the country’s “more civilized neighbors”.

“The central government and the Office of the Prime Minister cannot keep riding rough-shod over Family Islanders and treating them like colonies of Nassau, to be exploited for political gain or personal benefit, like The Colony of The Bahama Islands once was by England,” Smith said.

He emphasized that in the Family Islands, where unregulated development is most rampant and the OPM’s power is near absolute, – though exercised without legal basis – the rule of law is most seriously under threat.

“The PLP promised Local Government in the late 1960s but never delivered. The FNM promised it and mounted a pretense of Local Government, then over the years set about progressively clawing back what little authority it had granted and starving local officials of funding, making it almost meaningless.

“Upholding the rule of laws like the Planning and Subdivisions Act and the Local Government Act – in both letter and spirit – is one of the central tenets of STB,” Smith said. “We also want to see unregulated development brought to an end, as well as passage of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a comprehensive Environmental Protection Act (EPA).”

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and more than 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an EPA, an FOIA and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

In June, a pro-FOIA rally in Rawson Square organized by STB attracted 20 different organizations, together representing more than 60,000 people with diverse concerns ranging from environmental destruction and government corruption, to labor disputes and human rights abuses.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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