RELENTLESS: Bannister warns “decisive action” planned for Abaco shantytown

RELENTLESS: Bannister warns “decisive action” planned for Abaco shantytown
Rihanna Nervillien's five-year-old sister Diamond Delhomme stands amidst rubble in The Farm shantytown in this November 11, 2019 photo. Her family lives in Farm Road. (FILE PHOTO)

New affidavit seeks to protect “ethnic Haitian organic communities” on island

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister yesterday gave notice to Parliament that the government will take “decisive action” against a shantytown on Abaco known as The Farm, insisting the effort “is going to be relentless”.

The minister said there were “legal maneuvers” in the courts.

“Mr Speaker, there are legal maneuvers in the court and there are several injunctions in place and one of those injunctions says that nobody is to build any illegal housing anywhere in The Bahamas and any unregulated housing,” Bannister said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.

“Mr Speaker, let’s understand the importance of this.

“When I go into these unregulated communities, I see open cesspit tanks — open; they’re a health hazard. You see wires running haphazardly. You see generators around in the community — frightening because we know what can happen.

“We know people can be electrocuted, there can be fires.”

Bannister said at the time government officials visited the shantytowns of Abaco, one man had been killed by the vapors from his generator.

He said Cabinet has given him the mandate to deal with the “illegal housing community” at The Farm, Abaco, and before the end of this month, “you’re going to see action started”.

“And that action is going to be relentless, Mr Speaker, to ensure, first of all, the property of Bahamians is protected, a birthright. Secondly, when we build communities, we have safe communities; that our water table is protected because you don’t know what is happening to the water table,” Bannister said during the mid-year budget debate.

He continued: “I want to give notice, now, today, that there is going to be action, and there is going to be decisive action in relation to that unregulated community and my ministry is going to continue to work to ensure that where people see fit to come and build unregulated community, that swift action and effective action is going to be taken.”

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court and dated March 10, 2021, Human Rights Bahamas President Stephanie St Fleur refers to the shantytown communities in Abaco as “ethnic Haitian organic communities” on the island.

“Since the storm, the respondents, along with other government actors, have made clear their firm intention to eradicate ethnic Haitian organic communities in Abaco,” read St Fleur’s affidavit.

Rights Bahamas president Stephanie St. Fleur

“In an attempt to justify this, the respondents have resorted to conflating questions of property ownership and building standards with issues of illegal immigration in a manner that continues to discriminate against the applicants who are Abaco residents, as well as other homeowners in the targeted communities.

“By their own account, the respondents proceeded with an eradication plan, claiming to have been ‘clearing’ debris, but in reality, obliterating entire communities such as The Mudd and Pigeon Pea without regard to the property rights of the residents and in clear violation of the injunction.”

Last month, Bannister promised action on an emerging shantytown in Abaco.

Abaco was one of two islands pummeled by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.

The record storm wiped out several unregulated communities, known as the shantytowns, including an area known as The Mudd.

Court documents name Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Attorney General Carl Bethel, the Bahamas Power and Light Company Limited and the Water and Sewerage Corporation as respondents.

The applicants included ‘Respect Our Homes Limited and 177 residents and/or occupants of shantytowns in The Bahamas.

The Supreme Court granted an injunction in August 2018 preventing the government from demolishing the structures in the shantytowns, including disconnecting utilities.

St Fleur, the president and director of Respect Our Homes Limited, argued that over the last year as political campaigning has begun for the next general election, senior government officials have “again ramped up their public remarks regarding their intention to target and eradicate ethnic communities”.

She underscored Bannister’s announcement last July that demolition notices had been affixed to homes in Abaco. At the time, the minister said the government will lawfully remove Farm shantytown inhabitants.

The applicants claim that as a result of government’s actions, residents have been left “homeless, destitute, and dispossessed of their homes and belongings”.

The group also made the cases that if the injunction is not extended to protect “all of the remaining existing ethnic communities in Abaco” more residents will suffer “irreparable loss and damage”.

“If the court does not protect these organic communities from being destroyed, they will continue to be unconstitutionally discriminated against and hundreds, if not thousands of people will be made homeless,” read the affidavit.

Abaco is still in recovery as hundreds of families rebuild.

Respect Our Homes Limited has claimed the government’s action is procedurally unfair, discriminatory, inhuman and degrading to “simply bulldoze hundreds of homes and put hundreds of poor people and their children out on the streets as homeless victims of an unconstitutional, discriminatory, anti-Haitian Ethnic community government policy”.