By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN a move being hailed as a victory for greater transparency in government processes, Supreme Court justices granted injunction requests against the government yesterday that prevents the Christie administration from making decisions on billionaire fashion mogul Peter Nygard’s applications for building permits and Crown land.
The environmental group Save the Bays (STB) and 103 Lyford Cay residents and property owners suing the government were given permission to have a judicial review of the government’s consultation process over Mr Nygard’s applications.
The justices’ decision came despite the government’s move last week to extend its consultation process after admitting confusion and flaws in the process thus far. As the latest controversy to raise questions about the government’s actions when granting certain permits and approvals, some residents are concerned about the effects Mr Nygard’s activities at Simms Point could have on the environment.
They fear that the government may try to not only sanction his requests as a favour for his financial contributions to the Progressive Liberal Party over the years, but also retroactively sanction his reclamation of Crown land.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, STB attorney Fred Smith said his group was forced to seek an injunction after government officials failed to respond to a letter he sent requesting that it not act on Mr Nygard’s applications until a judicial review had been concluded.
“When we filed our judicial review on July 7, we wrote to the government and invited them to give an undertaking not to continue with the process and not to make decisions on Mr Nygard’s applications pending the results of judicial review,” he said. “They failed to even reply to our letter and consequently we were forced to file for an injunction to restrain the government.”
Explaining the results of yesterday’s court proceedings, which were closed to the general public, he said: “Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Bain granted permission to issue a judicial review against the prime minister, deputy prime minister, Director of Physical Planning Michael Major, the Town Planning Committee, Minister of Environment Kenred Dorsett, Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin, and Building Control Officer Greg Delancy.
“This application for judicial review relates to the consultation process which the government purported to embark upon and Save the Bays’ application says it is fundamentally flawed and procedurally unfair with a view to retroactively authorising illegal construction, dredging and land reclamation activities that have taken place at Nygard Cay since 1984, where Mr Nygard has reclaimed nearly three acres of Crown land by constructing walls, concrete docks, helicopter pads, buildings, temple and other structures on the sea bed on the north side and south side, mostly without permits and without a Crown lease.
“The PM holds Crown land in trust for the benefit of the Bahamian people and Mr Nygard’s works affect the ecologically sensitive and culturally important Clifton heritage site, critical for diving recreation for Bahamians and tourists.”
Mr Smith said the court’s decision restrains the government from considering Mr Nygard’s current building permit applications, future building applications, his Crown lease application and anticipated applications for works relating to existing and nonexistent sea bed structures. He said the injunction restricts the government from granting any permits, approvals or leases with respect to the aforementioned applications until the judicial review is completed.
The court, he said, ordered that there should be an inter-party hearing of the injunction on August 12. In the meantime, the government’s consultation process has been suspended.
As for the Lyford Cay residents and/or property owners who collectively filed for judicial review, their injunction request was granted and will remain until the attorney general either applies to set it aside or the trial of their judicial review ends.
Mr Smith said: “We are pleased that we have been given permission to issue this judicial review which deals entirely with a process and it continues the work of Save the Bays in promoting regulated development, ie, just follow the rules rather than making it up as you go along. Parliament is responsible for making the laws and has passed Acts.
“These cases are being mounted by Save the Bays to ensure that the executive branch of government respects throughout the Bahamas laws passed by the legislative branch. Unfortunately we have to resort to the judicial branch to keep the executive branch in line. This is not how a country should be run. The government is not only Office of the Prime Minister; it also comprises Parliament, the executive branch and judiciary branch. Each must respect each other’s roles.”