Attorney General Carl Bethel.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel said it can’t be argued that removing debris from Abaco’s destroyed shanty towns violates a Supreme Court injunction.
He was responding to attorney Fred Smith who noted in a recent letter that the government is restrained from demolishing any building or interfering with shanty town residents’ enjoyment of land until the legal dispute over the land has been adjudicated.
Mr Bethel said in a letter to Mr Smith: “There is certainly no cause to complain that any plans to remove the debris from the destruction caused by the hurricane in any way shape or form constitutes any violation of the injunction, and there is power under both the Environmental Health Services Act and the Buildings Regulations Act to accomplish this.
“As you would be aware, in addition to environmental concerns caused by the deposit of noxious substances and other pollutants into the environment, there is the real prospect that human remains are located among the debris and rubble. These remains have to be located, recovered and processed according to the highest international and humanitarian standards.
“Further in this regard, you might wish to note (Section 11) of the BRA in particular, which specifically provides for the minister (with responsibility for works) to have ‘special emergency powers’ to demolish and remove structures made irreparably dangerous due to the occurrence of ‘flood, fire, hurricane or any other disaster,’ subject only to preserving valuable contents for the owners of such premises (to the extent such salvage is possible without endangering the safety of anyone).”
Mr Smith had criticised the government’s order prohibiting building in Abaco’s shanty towns, saying that not only must such an order be made pursuant to the Planning and Subdivision Act, but that the order must comply with a mandated Land Use Plan, something that does not exist for Abaco.
“We do not think it necessary to devote too much time to this issue, as you concede in your letter that the terms of the injunction in any event contains what is tantamount to a no-build provision in respect of the affected islands,” Mr Bethel wrote. “Thus, even in the absence of the S. 24(I)(b) zoning order under the Planning and Subdivision Act, the applicants are restrained from constructing, erecting or altering any further any further buildings or structures on the lands otherwise than in accordance with the BRA. However, please be aware that we do not necessarily accept your analysis of the provisions of the PSA in relation to this matter.”
Mr Smith had also raised concerns about the government’s intention to compulsorily acquire the shanty town land, noting the government does not have an unfettered ability to acquire area. He said land should be acquired for reasons that fit a “public purpose,” of which “eradicating people from land based on their immigration status or ethnicity is plainly not.”
Mr Bethel, however, said a public purpose is defined as “any purpose authorised by Parliament,” adding that case law shows Parliament’s authorisation of an acquisition is not justiciable, notwithstanding any challenge to the move.
For his part, Mr Smith said not only does Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ actions “heed the cry of the lynch mob” instead of valuing the law and demonstrating Christian compassion, but the prime minister should also stop “inflaming the (fumes) of violence in so many forms against our clients.”
“Even allowing for your usual incursion into sensation and incendiary language,” Mr Bethel replied, “this is an extremely irresponsible statement. With the greatest of respect, there are and have never been any lynch mobs in the Bahamas, and the metaphorical reference trivialises the serious historical injustice done to people of colour in the United States and elsewhere. Further, it is extremely irresponsible of you, and borders on defamatory, to charge the prime minister with ‘inflaming the fuels of violence in so many forms against our clients.’ In this regard, we challenge you to produce one example where the prime minister or any other government official for that matter has encouraged violence against your clients or any other group of persons.”
“You might also wish to note that the same prime minister you are lambasting has also just announced plans to build a $6.4 million family relief facility in Abaco, and it is very likely that many of the ‘clients’ you mention will also benefit from this proposal.”