By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY Fred Smith yesterday warned the government that it was treading on the “thin ice of contempt” for pressing ahead with efforts to eradicate shanty towns in the Family Islands despite the pending judicial review.
The government’s position, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, is the court injunction blocking evictions and demolition in New Providence was not extended to other islands, and enables the government to forge ahead with mobilising efforts in the Family Islands. Mr Foulkes is also chairman of the government’s Shanty Town Action Task Force.
However, Mr Smith said 88 of the 177 shanty town residents seeking judicial review of the government’s decision are from Abaco, and questioned why the government hasn’t opted to halt the process completely as it has done with the gaming taxes on web shops, which was halted pending the outcome of court action.
Mr Smith, who is representing the group, said: “To continue I think it is appalling of the government, and shows no respect for the rule of law to continue to terrorise the Family Island Haitian ethnic communities with this inhumane and degrading threat to demolish their homes. Because that’s in fact what it is, to continue to parade the might of the state and proclaim their intention to demolish homes whether or not there is an injunction, the matter is before the courts.
“So just like the Attorney General (Carl Bethel) has put the increase in the gaming tax in abeyance pending the determination of court case brought by Wayne Munroe and Alfred Sears, a civilised government would stop abusing the population until this is determined. Why should I have to go and get another injunction?”
Mr Smith added: “That is only going to increase costs unnecessarily and waste judicial time. They haven’t even applied to set aside the injunction we got for 88 residents in Abaco and those in New Providence.
“I urge Minister Foulkes to remember that the injunction does indeed apply to over 88 homes in Pigeon Peas and the Mud and so he is treading on a thin ice of contempt if he doesn’t stop terrorising these citizens, Bahamian citizens most of them, in Abaco.”
Mr Foulkes led closed door meetings with Abaco’s task force over the weekend, and established sub-committees to coordinate efforts that will affect approximately 912 households.
Yesterday, Mr Smith said human rights group Rights Bahamas and plaintiff Respect Our Homes Ltd plan to visit more Family Island shanty towns to get more residents to join their suit against the government.
He underscored all shanty towns in the country were located in constituencies held by the Free National Movement, adding he found it ironic the Minnis-led administration had taken the stance to hound its own voters out of their homes.
“I just don’t understand where the government thinks these human beings are going to go,” Mr Smith said, “especially in the Family Islands where alternative affordable housing is non-existent.
“The continued insistence on harassing human beings in the Family Islands is a manifestation of institutionalised state terrorism just like (former Minister of Immigration) Fred Mitchell under the Progressive Liberal Party.
“It is psychological warfare on Bahamian citizens, citizens in waiting, spouses of Bahamians, and worst of all, simply poor people. What’s most ironic, the FNM doesn’t seem to understand that every single shanty town is in an FNM constituency, so they are hounding their own voters out of their homes.”