DEMOLITION BEGINS: Govt begins removing structures in The Farm; issues “final warning”

DEMOLITION BEGINS: Govt begins removing structures in The Farm; issues “final warning”
Signs posted in The Farm shantytown on Abaco in April 2021.

Human Rights Bahamas denounces the move

ABACO, BAHAMAS — Forty-five incomplete and unoccupied structures in the shantytown known as The Farm on Abaco were demolished yesterday, making good on Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister’s promise of resolute action in the area to remove those homes.

Heavy-duty equipment tore the structures down as some residents of the area watched from a distance.

The ministry said phase two of the operation will continue today.

It said: “The government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas remains firm in its resolve to ensure that the health hazards and hazardous conditions that unregulated communities foster are dealt with decisively and effectively.”

A still from video footage purportedly showing law enforcement officers and what appears to be dozens of generators and other items loaded on a flatbed truck from The Farm shantytown on Abaco on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

In a final notice affixed to homes in English and Creole yesterday, the government said: “Take notice that further to the contravention notice issued on April 8, 2021, in accordance with Section 4 of the Buildings Regulations Act, Chapter 200, this structure will be demolished on May 7, 2021, or soon thereafter without any further notice to you. Accordingly, you should take immediate steps to vacate these premises prior to that date.”

The notice was signed by the minister of public works and dated April 22.

In a statement, Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) said it was unfortunate the government would choose to create what it called another humanitarian crisis on Abaco — an island where hundreds have lost their homes due to deadly Hurricane Dorian and “even more in the illegal demolitions by the government that followed”.

A total of 177 shantytown residents are in a legal battle against the government over its bid to rid the nation of shantytowns. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter on April 27.

An injunction was granted in August 2018, protecting the applicants from eviction and their homes from being disconnected from services or demolished.

This month, the government and several of its agencies raided The Farm.

HRB pointed out that Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) Managing Director Katherine Forbes-Smith has said there is a severe shortage of housing on Abaco.

“Yet the government — in the absence of any urgent need to take drastic action — is choosing to compound this crisis further, forcing more people into the streets, or the bush, or who knows where,” read HRB’s statement.

“Meanwhile, these homes are being destroyed at the very moment when the fate of this community is before the courts and awaiting the judge’s ruling.”

The non-governmental humanitarian organization said The Bahamas is supposed to be a constitutional democracy that operates according to the rule of law.

It questioned the point of the courts as a forum for settling disputes if the executive is “willing to ignore the judicial process, proceed according to the formula that might makes right and ruin people’s lives without lawful justification.

“Just because you have a bulldozer doesn’t mean you have to use it,” HRB said.

“The government of The Bahamas has hundreds of thousands of acres of vacant Crown land in Abaco.

“Why not sell a small portion of it to these suffering people who only want a home for their families?

“Why not make a virtue out of necessity, create a settlement and allow these people to build a meaningful future for their families, especially as it has been confirmed that the majority of them are Bahamians?

“Just because they happen to be of Haitian descent does not give the government the right to trample their constitutional rights. They are human beings too. Human Rights Bahamas will continue to await the judge’s ruling.”

Attorney General Carl Bethel and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis have said Bahamians, those of Haitian descent and those waiting to become citizens will have access to purchase land at affordable prices, though a specific timeline has not been outlined for this process.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.