The government was in “no position” to subsidize alternative housing for shantytown residents who would have been displaced by the planned 2018 demolitions of the communities, according to Kayla Green-Smith, of the Office of the Attorney General, who yesterday added that doing so would have been a conflict of interest.
She noted a meeting between Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes and activist Joseph Darville, who was representing Fred Smith, QC, who represents shantytown residents in an ongoing judicial review challenging the government’s 2018 policy, which was halted that same year after an injunction was granted by Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson.
Green-Smith read the minutes from that meeting.
“The minister welcomed … Joseph Darville, president of Rights Bahamas movement and representative of Mr. Frederick Smith, who was away on business,” she said.
“The meeting began with the minister giving an overview of the government’s mandate to eliminate the shantytowns and relocate the residents to more civilized and healthier communities. The reason for this decision was that shantytowns had become health hazards to the surrounding neighborhoods and they were havens for criminal activity.
“A special committee was formed to carry out this mandate and it comprised of various government ministries and departments that had applicable significance to the cause.”
She said Foulkes further explained that a survey was conducted by the Department of Environmental Health Services in 2013 that reported roughly 21 shantytowns in New Providence and the Family Islands.
Green-Smith said a survey would be conducted to determine how many men, women and children lived in the shantytowns and to assist them with finding new landlords through the Alternative Housing Committee.
She said the project was expected to be completed in New Providence before the start of the new academic year “so the children who attended school would not be inconvenienced”.
“Mr. Darville interjected by asking if the government would be subsidizing the alternative housing for the residents,” Green-Smith said as she continued to read the minutes.
“The minister explained that the government was in no position to subsidize this venture and even if they were able to do it, it would be a conflict of interest to assist these residents before the countless number of Bahamians who are still awaiting assistance as a result from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.
“Mr. Darville further shared that his only concern was the treatment of the villagers during this process. He further advised that the wordage of the project title be changed from ‘eliminating shantytowns’ to ‘transforming shantytowns’. The minister assured that this mandate would be carried out in the most humane way.”
Green-Smith also noted a report compiled by the Alternative Housing Committee.
She said the report informed shantytown residents of available places where they could reside “where the quality and the standard of living would be elevated”.
Green-Smith encouraged Grant-Thompson to look at the report as she made her deliberations.
The respondents in this matter are Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Foulkes, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Attorney General Carl Bethel, Bahamas Power and Light and the Water and Sewerage Corporation.
Proceedings resume June 15.