The government will argue that building in shantytowns is in contravention to the Building Regulations Act and is therefore a criminal offense, in an attempt to lift an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytowns in The Bahamas.
In 2018, the government announced that it would demolish shantytowns throughout The Bahamas.
However, in August of that year, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson handed down an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
On Thursday, the government served a summons, including skeleton arguments, to the attorneys representing shantytown residents on Abaco and New Providence.
The argument notes that Attorney General Carl Bethel “wrongfully conceded” to the plaintiffs that the conduct of constructing a building or breaking down a building was “a civil wrong requiring notice” for Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister to act against the shantytown residents.
According to the document, section four of the Building Regulations Act indicates that “no notice whatsoever” is required for the minister of public works to “act against the residents of shantytown or anyone else”.
“Further, section 14 makes it a criminal offense to obstruct,” it notes.
“The plaintiff and others who advise encouraged the plaintiff and their counsel it is submitted, it could be argued [they] committed this offense when they sought an injunction to prevent the carrying out of the act.
“The plaintiff’s attorney was bound to disclose these sections of the act to the court when he applies to obstruct the minister by the injunction.
“Thus, it is submitted that this court has no jurisdiction whatsoever to: one, absolve the plaintiff from and to continue their criminal conductions; and two, obstruct the minister from carrying out the provisions of the act.”
The document points to the law and the Atkin’s Court Form, which notes that the plaintiff “must prove that he is entitled to the right to remain in the homes or keep them even if unsafe to obtain the injunction that he obtained”.
The government is seeking an order to add Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson as a respondent in the matter on the grounds that he has breached his duty “by not prosecuting the plaintiff, other Haitians and other for criminal breach of the act”, according to the document.
The argument also cited article 26 of the constitution, noting that it is unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the basis of place of origin.
It continued by noting that if Bahamians have to comply with the building code, then so should Haitians and other shantytown residents.
Shantytowns on Abaco were decimated by Hurricane Dorian in early September.
Following the Category 5 storm, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that he had instructed Bethel to return to court and seek to have the injunction lifted.
The prime minister has noted the government’s intention to acquire shantytown property on Abaco through compulsory acquisition.
The constitution provides for the compulsory acquisition of land by the government.