Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that he will instruct the attorney general to return to court and seek to have an injunction banning the demolition of shantytowns lifted.
Last year, the government announced that it would demolish shantytowns throughout The Bahamas.
However, in August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson handed down an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
As he wrapped up debate in the House of Assembly yesterday on amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act, Minnis said, “… I will ask the attorney general to … return to court to ask that the injunction be lifted. It is essential, Mr. Speaker, that we save lives.”
He added, “Mr. Speaker, it is essential that we have all within our boundaries live in proper, safe accommodation. That is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the people and all within its domain.
“And, therefore, Mr. Speaker, it is mandatory that we remove all shantytowns within our territory. They break our laws. They are unsafe. They are unhealthy. They are health risks and they’re unhygienic.”
Shantytowns on Abaco were decimated by Hurricane Dorian in early-September.
Many of the residents from those areas are now homeless, and some of the storm’s deaths occurred in shantytowns.
After Dorian, the government issued an immediate six-month ban on the construction of new buildings in those shantytowns.
On October 2, Minnis announced that the government intends to acquire shantytown property on Abaco through compulsory acquisition.
“I’ve heard noise about the property of the shantytowns and I’ve informed the attorney general to compulsorily acquire The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks and other related areas,” the prime minister said at the time.
The constitution provides for the compulsory acquisition of land by the government.
On October 7, Fred Smith, QC, who represents shantytown residents, noted that “the injunction covers all shantytown land in New Providence as well as such land on Abaco occupied by specific applicants who are residents of shantytowns in Abaco”.
“We stress that recent events do not change the terms of the injunction, which remains in full force and effect unless and until varied by the court,” Smith wrote in a letter to the Office of the Attorney General.
Attorney General Carl Bethel responded to Smith’s letter two days later, noting that the government had not taken any action “contrary” to the injunction.
“In fact, it ought to have been anticipated by you in any event that Hurricane Dorian created a fundamental change in circumstances which would have implications for the proceedings generally, and in particular for the terms of the current injunction, which might in the circumstances require modification,” Bethel said.