Govt sued over Crown land

A Bahamian entrepreneur has sued the government, alleging breach of an agreement for Crown land on the western side of Paradise Island for the development of his beach club project.

This stems from a standoff between Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club Company Limited, and government officials over the land in question, which is also being eyed by Royal Caribbean to develop its planned $50 million beach club for cruise visitors.

The writ names the attorney general as the defendant. He has been sued on behalf of the minister responsible for lands and surveys (Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis).

Smith, through his company, is seeking a declaration that by a letter dated January 7, 2020, there is a concluded agreement for a lease between his company and the minister for lands.

Alternatively, he is seeking damages for breach of the agreement for a lease between his company and the minister.

“We seek justice and the assistance of the courts to have the Crown land lease and other agreements made with the government of The Bahamas honored,” the company said in a press statement yesterday.

“…We are in our ninth year of trying to bring this project to fruition; we have begged, patiently waited and we are now beyond waiting any longer. The government ignores us. This is how Bahamians are treated as last class citizens in our own country.”

The statement also announced that Wayne Munroe, Q.C., is representing Smith in the matter.

Smith told The Nassau Guardian on March 10 that he plans to restore the dilapidated 200-year-old Paradise Island lighthouse as well as develop a beach club to entertain residents and visitors.

The Department of Lands and Surveys sent him a Crown land lease agreement to sign earlier this year.

The January 7, 2020 document seen by The Guardian states: “Approval for crown lease five acres (two and three) at the west end of Paradise Island, Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club Company Limited.”

Smith said he signed and returned the document as requested, but the prime minister never executed the lease agreement.

In a Tribune article earlier this year, Attorney General Carl Bethel accused Smith of “extreme selfishness” for rejecting a compromise that was “in the interest of The Bahamas”.

“The government has amended its offer by moving him to the area where it is the best part of that beach and he persists in seeking to have the whole of it,” the attorney general told The Guardian in March.

Bethel also pointed to the fact that the lease was never executed.

“Crown land is a part of the patrimony of every Bahamian and the government in the disposition of it or the use to which it allows Crown land is duty-bound to have some public purpose, some benefit to the wider society,” he said.

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has said it would cancel the lease for Crown land on Paradise Island if the government approves Royal Caribbean’s request.

It said any project of this type should be owned and operated by Bahamians.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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