Sunday, Nov 17, 2019
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What to do about shantytown residents not rocket science 

Dear Editor,

The reasonable situation to me is that whatever has been destroyed by Dorian can of course be demolished and removed for environmental and sanitary health reasons.

And then the government tries to help those people with all the international aid and domestic aid it has. In doing so, it should respect the property rights that existed before Dorian.

Those places that have not been destroyed, the people that lived in them before Dorian are entitled to go back into there.

Just like the rich white foreign people on Guana Cay or the Abaco “conchy joes” and the rich foreigners in the rest of Abaco get to go back to their destroyed homes and begin to rebuild so do the poor, black, weak, politically unconnected and immigration challenged people in the shantytowns.

Remember, most of the people in the shantytowns, from the government’s own study, are either citizens, work permit holders, permanent residents, spouses of Bahamians, or many thousands born in The Bahamas, second and third generation, but just don’t have papers yet even though many, many of them have applied to be registered as citizens.

Of course, those who have entered illegally recently and have no immigration permission to be here, are subject to being arrested and being deported, etc.

But also, the government should realize this is a humanitarian crisis, and that there’s going to be a need for many thousands of hands to help rebuild the Abacos and they should make a virtue out of necessity and instead of giving thousands of permits to people who are outside of The Bahamas to come in to work, they could really be sensible and give all of the people that are already in Abaco an amnesty and permission to be here to work.

There is already an available workforce.

And of course those many thousands of citizens in waiting, all of whom were born here, second and third and maybe even fourth generations who are entitled to be registered as citizens, many of who have made the applications, the government should make a clean sweep of it and just give them all certificates.

All that should be necessary is for them to produce their birth certificate showing they were born in The Bahamas.

This is not rocket science.

There’s nothing to compromise on.

There is a court case going on as to whether or not the government’s threat to demolish was lawful. It is important for the government to respect the rule of law and the fact is the matter is before the courts.

I’m not proposing any solutions to this problem.

I’ve written two papers and published them on Insight which the government has ignored.

There’s been no forum proposed by the PLP or FNM governments, or the Abaco Chamber of Commerce or anybody else to have any rational sensible public discussions and debate about how to recognize all of the interests of all the various stakeholders on this shantytown issue and try to come up with a sensible solution.

Instead, they just want to rattle their swords and demolish all the shantytowns.

That is not a rational solution.

As we now see the problem, if they had been allowed to demolish all the shantytowns in New Providence and the Abacos before I stopped the government doing that with the court case, what would’ve happened to the nearly 15,000 people who would have been made homeless?

I’m simply asking the government not to single out people of Haitian ethnic origin in the shantytowns in Abaco and to target them for demolition.

The government’s knee-jerk reaction after all the noise on social media, and everybody started hating on the Haitian, was to issue a prohibition to build order only, and I stress only, directed at the people in the shantytowns.

And they didn’t even have to do that because the injunction I obtained said that although the government wasn’t entitled to demolish, neither were the people in the shantytowns entitled to continue to build without permits.

So there was already a sensible balance imposed by the courts.

But no, they needed to score political brownie points and show they were taking the Haitians to task and protecting Bahamians!

You don’t do this in the wake of a humanitarian disaster!

That is rank discrimination!

What makes the shantytowns any different from all the other places that were destroyed by Dorian?

And yes, they do have ownership and property rights by virtue of possessory title, commonly known as squatters rights.

The laws of The Bahamas specifically recognize that anybody who has lived on land, private land for over 12 years, is entitled to stay there. And if it’s Crown land they’re entitled to stay there after 30 years.

It’s called the Limitation Act.

It’s the government that is not respecting the law not the people in the shantytowns.

The Mudd and Pigeon Peas are private land and the people have been there for nearly 70 years.

The solution is to respect the fact that they are there, bring utilities, bring waste management, bring sanitation and accept the reality that for 70 years you’ve allowed the situation to be created and people have rights and Dorian didn’t magically wash them away.

It is discriminatory, obviously so, for the government to fixate and obsess about the shantytowns.

Government has used Dorian to try to get around the court action which was an injunction to restrain them from demolishing the houses of specific plaintiffs who lived in The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks etc. who are part of the action.

Much of northern Abaco  was destroyed by the storm, so why is the government putting blinders on and just carrying on about the shantytowns?  It’s because they’re trying to do indirectly what they couldn’t do directly because of our court case.

What about all the other houses, commercial buildings, schools, churches everything else that has been destroyed?

And, I would’ve had a problem with the government generally saying to everybody in the affected areas for health and sanitation and environmental reasons we are going to assist in demolishing and we are going to assist in rebuilding and we’re going to assist in resettling,

The mischief here is the default obsession with using this as a political opportunity to score brownie points.

For Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis to get up and say he has heard the noise in the marketplace after people started to hate on the Haitians on social media and then to attack the shantytowns, is really unacceptable in a country that has a constitution which protects against discrimination.

We are not the government; it’s not our job to propose all kinds of social, economic and political solutions.

The matter is before the courts for determination. No government, PLP or FNM, proposed any rational, reasonable, humanistic prior resolution.

We were driven to go to court.

You can’t pretend that people don’t have rights!

As an NGO, it is our job to be a watchdog against government abuse.

That’s it!

That is all that I am doing and there is no compromise on that.

– Fred Smith, QC

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