The government should wait until the completion of an ongoing judicial review on the demolition of shantytowns in The Bahamas before proceeding with the demolition of new structures in shantytowns, according to Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis.
Demolition of illegal unoccupied structures in The Farm shantytown in Abaco started last month.
On May 4, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister said the demolition of unauthorized structures in The Farm was set to continue last week, noting that once demolition in that shantytown is complete, the teams will move on to other shantytowns.
A 2018 Supreme Court injunction prohibits the government from demolishing shantytown structures that had already been constructed and prohibits anyone from constructing, erecting or altering unregulated shantytown buildings anywhere in The Bahamas.
A challenge to the government’s demolition policy, which was brought by a group of shantytown residents being represented by Fred Smith, QC, remains before the court.
Yesterday, Davis told The Nassau Guardian, “In respect to new structures that may have been erected after the injunction, they ought not to move to demolish those buildings that have been erected. However, their efforts should be to prevent further construction until the outcome of the proceedings is known.
“If they allow the erection of homes after the injunction, they ought to allow those structures to remain to abide the outcome of the proceedings and their efforts should be to prevent further construction so that the question of demolition would not arise.”
When asked if demolition should be allowed while the matter is before the courts, he replied, “If the issue is before the court, you should allow the court to determine the issue and then once that is done, the executive – because it’s the executive that is engaged in the demolition – then the executive moves in to do what it has to do in accordance with the court’s ruling.”
Last week, the United Nations (UN) human rights experts urged the government to “immediately cease further evictions and housing demolitions” and to follow “due legal process and respect existing judicial orders”.
“The planned forced evictions and demolitions constitute a serious violation of the human right to adequate housing and will result in arbitrary internal displacement,” it read.
“To make things worse, this is scheduled to occur during the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening to expose an already vulnerable minority to all kinds of risks for their health and safety. Most of these people have nowhere else to go. If their homes are destroyed, they are at serious risk of falling into homelessness and extreme poverty.
“While it is important to move away from informal settlements lacking in safety and infrastructure, vulnerable minorities should not be left behind in the government’s efforts to rebuild more resilient communities.”
On Monday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield defended the demolition of structures in The Farm.
He said The Bahamas “cannot turn a blind eye to irregularities and unlawfulness”.
However, Davis said yesterday that the UN was not suggesting that illegality be allowed to prevail in The Bahamas.
He said it was also not suggesting that “you don’t have the right to do what you’re doing”.
“It is that you do what you’re doing in a humane manner,” Davis said.
“In this instance what they are saying, as I understand, [is]: if you’re going to destroy the homes where persons are staying, you need to be able to ensure that there is some alternative place for those persons.
“If there are no alternative places for those persons, then you are creating a further crisis which may be worse than the one that you are attempting to cure. So, if you destroy all the homes of the illegals, then when are they going to go?
“Then, you have another crisis on your hands. You have thousands of persons maybe, hundreds of persons maybe, tens of persons maybe who then become homeless. Where would they go?”