The government will not sell any Crown land to Haitian residents being evacuated from shantytowns in New Providence, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
Bethel’s comments follow a request from Pastor Jean Paul Charles, president of the League of Haitian Pastors, to give shantytown residents first preference to purchase land in those communities.
Addressing the matter outside Cabinet, Bethel said, “The policy of the government is not to sell Crown land to non-Bahamians. That’s the first problem; that’s our policy.
“One may consider leasing it if there is some viable national development issue. But we are not selling Crown land or giving Crown land to non-Bahamians.
“The question of tenure and those who would have been there for any number of years is a matter that someone may have a right to go to court about. But certainly, the government is not in the business of giving Crown land away to non-Bahamians and Crown land should only be put to good use that will benefit the overall country.
“…We respect the views of the Haitian pastors, [but] we would not be able to say that we are going to follow their recommendation.
“We continue to have a dialogue with them and other leaders in the Haitian community as we all seek to find a humane solution to a vexing and long-running problem and that is what we are trying to do.”
When he spoke to The Nassau Guardian on Tuesday, Charles said his group has visited the 11 shantytowns in New Providence on a weekly basis to meet with residents and hear their concerns.
He said he hopes the government “gives the Haitians who live in those places the first preference if they want to buy that piece of land and to rebuild it, up to code, properly”.
“We asked the government and they said they would look into that and get back to us,” he said.
Haitian Embassy First Assistant Secretary Karl Henri Chatelier reportedly made a similar suggestion on ZNS.
But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said his comments were out of line and he interfered in the domestic affairs of The Bahamas.
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who heads the Shantytown Action Task Force, also addressed the matter outside Cabinet.
“We are advised that all of the land that’s involved with this matter is owned by the government,” Foulkes said.
“All 11 of the shantytowns without exception are leased land and leased for farming purposes.
“There is absolutely no authority for any of the residents to build a home.
“We are conducting an intensive and thorough investigation with respect to [the Department of] Lands and Surveys and the Building Controls Division of the Ministry of Works to ensure that that is the case.
“We want to make sure that the government conforms with all of our laws and regulations in the country.”
He added, “I would like to reaffirm what the prime minister said and the prime minister said at the opening of a housing development recently that all of the leased land that’s involved with this exercise will be turned into government subdivisions, low-cost housing subdivisions and any Bahamian resident has the right to apply for those houses.
“We are not going to make a special case for any particular group of persons. All Bahamians will have a fair opportunity to purchase or occupy those lands.”
Fred Smith, QC, and Rights Bahamas are reportedly preparing a class action lawsuit in respect of this matter.
Charles said he doesn’t think it will make any difference.
Bethel said last week the anticipated law suit won’t change the fact that their homes are in violation of the building code.
Foulkes said yesterday the government is confident that it is standing on good legal grounds.
“With respect to [Rights Bahamas] and their attempt to take this matter to court, that is their right,” he said.
“We live in a democratic society and any group or any individual who resides in The Bahamas can access our courts, but as you know the attorney general represents the government and we are confident that we are standing on good legal grounds.”
Shantytown residents have until August 10 to leave those communities. Once the deadline passes, those communities are expected to be demolished.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications