There were strong words yesterday from Attorney General Carl Bethel about the latest affadavit from Rights Bahamas seeking to prevent evictions and demolitions of shanty towns in Abaco.
“Iron will meet iron,” he said, insisting “we expect that we will prevail because all we are asking is for every single resident in The Bahamas to live their life in a healthy and safe and sanitary way.”
Strong words, of course, don’t win court cases on their own - as evidenced by the injunction that remains standing prohibiting the government from demolishing shanty towns. In October, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis instructed Mr Bethel to petition the court to lift that injunction - which remains in place. At the time, Mr Bethel said matters were “sort of in abeyance” because of the condition of Fred Smith QC after a near-fatal paragliding accident.
Rights Bahamas took issue with the six-month prohibition ban issued by the government for all Abaco shanty towns - saying it should only have been directed at those areas destroyed by Hurricane Dorian.
Mr Bethel gave the new affadavit short shrift, saying of Rights Bahamas president Stephanie St Fleur: “I’m sorry, she can conjure up and pretty up a shanty town all she wants, but most persons have left the poverty and degradation of shanty towns in Haiti. So why would we want them to create it here?”
We would remind Mr Bethel that his own government’s survey showed that the majority of residents in shanty towns have had legal status to reside in the country - around 20 percent of those surveyed being undocumented according to a survey reporting in December last year. That’s not just work permits or spousal permits, but also Bahamians living there, so it’s not all about Haitians and suggesting so plays into the arguments by Rights Bahamas of a policy swayed by xenophobia.
Mr Smith has also previously warned that there are many people who have property rights in the areas concerned.
A popular refrain from the government since Hurricane Dorian with regard to immigration matters has been that “the law is the law” - well, that holds true for property rights too. There is a question of precedent, too, for if property rights can be overriden for a poor community, why not for a rich one?
The goal of safe housing, a healthy environment and appropriate development is one we all share. As much as anything, we have feared for the safety of emergency services faced with the prospect of dealing with fires in locations where houses are right up against one another. But we should work with people to ensure safe development, not ride roughshod over homeowners’ rights.
So we shall see how far Mr Bethel’s stern words go with the court, for it is there rather than in media soundbites that the matter will be decided, and we shall see if he has more luck with the next injunction challenge than the last one.
Innovation meets tradition
It is always encouraging to see people thinking outside the box - and the creation of an “indigenous health desk” by the government to look at bush remedies is exactly that.
Many would dismiss the traditional use of cerasee or fever grass and so on in favour of more modern medicine, but generations of Bahamians have sworn by some of these remedies for a reason.
First and foremost, of course, the health desk will be able to provide a more expert opinion on what these remedies can do - and what they should not be used in conjunction with.
But if it proves more than that, might it just be the beginning of a different branch of medical tourism, with remedies available to visitors to The Bahamas and perhaps beyond these shores too?
For the money being invested in the project - $75,000 over six months - it’s a worthwhile gamble on something that could help turn next-door remedies into a fledgeling industry with room to grow.
Also, we note that it will come into being around the same time as the marijuana commission is due to finally report - and will also study cannabis for medicinal purposes. Might we read a little into the expected outcome of the report from that?