Supreme Court orders Labour minister to answer questions on Shantytown Action Task Force

Supreme Court orders Labour minister to answer questions on Shantytown Action Task Force
Minister of Labour, Senator Dion Foulkes.

Govt. given 21 days to respond

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson has ordered Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes to answer a series of questions in connection with a judicial review on the government’s shantytown eradication program.

Grant-Thompson permitted interrogatories requested by attorneys representing 177 shantytown residents.

Foulkes, who served as chairman of the Shantytown Action Task Force, provides the principal evidence in response to the leave to apply for judicial review, and both interlocutory and constitutional relief.

In a ruling on the matter on September 21, Grant-Thompson noted that some of the answers to the requested interrogatory questions will assist the court in determining the substantive issue before the court.

Foulkes has been ordered to state whether the government or anyone with its authority has taken a decision to take possession of the shantytown land; state whether the government has disconnected any utilities connected to the land, and indicate whether it is the substance of any government policy to eradicate shantytowns in The Bahamas.

He has also been ordered to state whether the production of occupancy certificates was taken into consideration when serving notices to evict shantytown residents in July 2018 and indicate whether those notices are still being relied on and are valid.

Foulkes had indicated in his affidavit that homes compliant with the Building Code will not be issued with demolition notices.

The labour minister was also ordered to identify which houses or other structures are considered to be compliant with the building code.

Additionally, he was asked whether the respondents accept that a demolition under the Buildings Regulation is not a valid means by which the Crown may take possession of any land.

The government gave shantytown residents of New Providence until August 10, 2018, to evacuate those communities, and residents of shantytowns in Abaco, until July 31, 2019 to leave.

However, days before the deadline an application for judicial review on the government’s eradication program was filed.

The applicants are Respect Our Homes Ltd, and Lumane Nonord et al being 117 residents and or occupants of the shantytown in The Bahamas.

The respondents in the matter include Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who has responsibility for lands; chair of the Shantytown Action Task Force; Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister; Attorney General Carl Bethel; Bahamas Power and Light; and the Water and Sewerage Corporation.

On August 4, Grant-Thompson granted an injunction barring the government from moving forward with its plans.

The Supreme Court judge has also granted an application for discovery on behalf of the applicants, noting that the duty of candour owed by the respondents has not been fully exercised.

The government has been ordered to deliver certain documents within 21 days.

Those documents include notes, memoranda, meeting minutes, discussion papers, press releases, correspondence, consultations of other documents related to or evidence of the formulation of the government apparent police to eradicate shantytowns in The Bahamas.

The government has been ordered to deliver all documents related to the establishment of the Shanty Towns Action Task Force, including documents evidencing its constitution, terms of reference, composition, and authority; as well as the Building Assessment report conducted by the Ministry of Works.

Additionally, all documents evidencing the extent of the Crown’s title to and/or interest in land in shanty towns in The Bahamas, including any deeds, plans, grants, leases, licenses, agreements, charges, easements, covenants, options, assignments or other documents.