By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Chairman Bradley Roberts has said that no amount of “hyperbole and falsehoods” put forth by Grand Bahama Human Rights Association President Fred Smith, QC, can change the fact that “shanty towns are illegal”.
Insisting that the government has been lawful in its attempts to reinforce the laws of the country, Mr Roberts argued that the nation’s building codes are clear and the government would not relent on its effort to demolish illegal shanty towns.
“People who are not nationals of The Bahamas living in this country without permission when found are subject to arrest and repatriation,” Mr Roberts said in a statement. “Immigration officers have the power in law to do so. There can be no backing away from this position.
“Legal migrant workers on work permits currently living in shanty towns must seek the assistance of their sponsor and employer in securing proper housing facilities.”
Mr Roberts suggested that Mr Smith is attempting to incite civil unrest in addition to harming the international reputation of The Bahamas.
“This is disgraceful and with each exaggeration Mr Smith brings great disgrace to himself, the Bahamas Bar Council of which he is a member and he undermines the integrity of the human rights community generally,” he stated.
“With the lawful demolition of a shanty town in Gamble Heights, Fred Smith has again misrepresented the truth and encouraged lawlessness and public incitement with his tissue of lies surrounding the legal enforcement of the law”.
“All lawful notices for the removal of this unlawful settlement were served according to law, first in November 2014 and again in September 2015,” Mr Roberts said.
On Friday the government began demolishing structures in the Gamble Heights shanty town. However, residents of the area claimed they did not receive notice of the impending demolition.
Over the weekend, Mr Smith criticised the government’s decision, calling it an illegal move by a “dictatorship” government.
“If there is anybody who still has a home and who is prepared to seek an injunction to restrain the future demolition of their homes, the GBHRA is prepared to act for them but my message is that we must take action in all forums,” Mr Smith said in a statement.
“The GBHRA is prepared to fight for anyone who wishes to sue the government for the demolition of their homes and destruction of their property”.
He also said: “Very regrettably, abuse of power and the inhumanity visited upon each other has been part of the history of mankind from inception and continues to be. We are lucky in The Bahamas that we have not had the blood-letting and violence arising from ethnic strife such as exists in many other countries today. If our government is not careful, if it continues to attack its own citizenry, if it continues to do violence to people’s rights and property, then unfortunately violence will manifest itself in many different forms.”
The shanty town, which is located in the southern section of New Providence, has grabbed headlines since police shot and killed 30-year-old Nixon Vixamar, a resident of the community, in August. Police said Vixamar was resisting arrest when he was shot. After the shooting, some residents reportedly became upset with police and damaged a police vehicle.
Earlier this month a 25-year-old man was stoned to death in the community. Police are still working to solve that matter.
In September, Minister of Environment and Housing Ken Dorsett told a local daily that the Christie administration planned to resume its crackdown on shanty towns and had renewed notices for persons living in such communities to vacate.
Mr Roberts added: “I encourage and appeal to Bahamian families living in sub-standard housing in shanty towns to seek social assistance at the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development but do not continue to be a part of an illegal commercial enterprise; shanty towns are illegal commercial enterprises that undermine the rule of law and all related housing, environmental and sanitation regulations.”