Bethel: Govt. will prevail on shantytown demolition

Bethel: Govt. will prevail on shantytown demolition
Attorney General Carl Bethel

As the legal battle persists, AG pledges “iron will meet iron”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government will “vigorously oppose” the injunction preventing it from demolishing shantytowns across The Bahamas.

Rights Bahamas and Respect Our Homes Ltd. President of Stephanie St. Fleur accused the government in an affidavit filed November 25, 2019, of contravening the law and acting in a “discriminatory, inhumane and degrading” manner.

Speaking to reporters at Government House, Bethel said “iron will meet iron”, as he expressed confidence the government will be successful in overturning the injunction.

“We will vigorously oppose their application,” he said.

“I read portions of the affidavit just a few moments ago. I am sorry. She can doctor up and pretty up a shantytown all she wants, but most persons have left the poverty, and degradation of shantytowns in their native Haiti.

“Why would we want have them create it here? We have to have people living in a standard of living that all Bahamians can live in. We want to glorify the ethnicity and diversity of our country, but in ways that dignify the residents of this country.”

Bethel, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation are listed as the respondents in the matter.

Respect Our Homes Ltd. and attorneys representing 177 shantytown residents are listed as the applicants.

The Supreme Court granted an injunction in August 2018, blocking the demolition of shantytowns.

The move prevented the government from beginning demolition, which it warned most residents of New Providence would begin on August 10, 2019.

Yesterday, Bethel said it is well documented that shantytowns are “unhealthy, unsafe and perilous” particular for children, and surrounding communities.

He said no amount of “glossy affidavits and words” can justify or hide that.

Bethel also pointed to sheer destruction of shantytown communities in Abaco such as The Mudd and Pigeon Peas following Hurricane Dorian, which brought over 20-feet sea surges.

The death toll has climbed to at least 70.

Hundreds remain missing, though the exact number remains unclear.

The government engaged contractors to demolish the remaining structures in those communities, and clear debris. It has also sought to prevent residents from rebuilding, erecting fences in some instances.

The prime minister has said the government will compulsory acquire shantytown land in Abaco. He advised last month that he instructed the attorney general to make an application to the court to have the injunction lifted.

“There are many people who are missing,” Bethel continued.

“These are clearly unsafe dwellings, unsafe living conditions and it subjects people to inordinate peril should a natural disaster occur as occurred in Abaco and Grand Bahama.”

Bethel said: “And if, God forbid, we would have a storm that were to hit the southern coast of New Providence, how many of these shantytowns could survive that? This is the peril and it is a daily peril we all face, and it will only get worse.

“So, in addition to our well-meaning efforts to fully integrate the Haitian population into mainstream Bahamians society, there is also the great peril that is everyday attendant upon these living conditions.

“So, we will fight the good fight with all our might and God willing we will prevail.”

Asked whether it was frustrating to halted with legal action at each attempt to rid the country of shantytowns, the attorney general said: “Of filing many actions there is no end and much law can be a weariness to the spirit, but we will defeat every one of these applications on this issue God willing.”

Bethel said: “We feel the law is on our side and we feel that justice will prevail. That broader justice, that justice for the people; justice for our law; that our law should be respected by all who come under the protection of our laws.”