By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has instructed Attorney General Carl Bethel to petition the court to lift a standing injunction that prohibits the government from demolishing shanty towns in the country.
Dr Minnis said these unregulated communities need to be removed as they pose imminent health risks.
This is the second time this month the prime minister told the House of the Assembly of the government’s policies to deal with shanty towns.
On October 2, he announced that the attorney general had been instructed to compulsorily acquire land where the Mudd, Pigeon Peas and Sand Banks once stood. At the time, Dr Minnis stressed that the government was intent on returning law and order to the country.
“It is essential that we have all within our boundaries live in proper, safe accommodation,” the Killarney MP said yesterday. “That is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its people and all within its domain.
“Therefore, it is mandatory that we remove all shanty towns within our territory. They break our laws. They are unsafe. They are unhealthy. They’re a health risk and they are unhygienic and therefore I will ask the attorney general to return to court and ask that the injunction be lifted.
“It’s essential, Mr Speaker, that we save lives. With these orders we want Bahamians and residents to know that a life threatening event is possible and you should move to preserve life and to spare lives.”
Following the House of Assembly, formal communication was sent to Mr Bethel to begin the process, The Tribune was told.
Dr Minnis’ latest announcement will likely trigger rebuke from human rights activists as was the case with his instruction to compulsorily acquire shanty town land.
Rights Bahamas has said the organisation would not relent in taking legal action over the move, branding it “xenophobic and petty”.
A little over two weeks ago, the local human rights watchdog said if this means fighting tooth and nail throughout the courts and up to the Privy Council to prevent a “terrible abuse of power,” then it was fully prepared to do so.
According to Mr Bethel, acquiring the land is expected to be a lengthy process.
“Matters are sort of in abeyance because of the condition of Mr (Fred) Smith,” Mr Bethel told The Tribune earlier this month.
Mr Smith survived a near fatal paragliding accident in Italy that required five-hour surgery last month. He had been paragliding in the Dolomite Mountains of the Italian Alps, when an accident led to him dislocating and shattering his left ankle, breaking his left tibia, dislocating and slicing his right ankle and breaking two vertebrae.
Mr Bethel continued: “We are speaking with a representative, his counsel over here, seeking to clear away what we call interlocutory matters. There are some applications for discovery documents and things like that so we’re trying to in a sense get the nod to go ahead and have those matters heard in Smith’s absence, which you know he is lead counsel so it depends on what he says.
“This is the shanty town case and so there are some interlocutory matters that need to be cleared out so that we can set it down for a date for trial. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Rights Bahamas has said the government could not just use Hurricane Dorian as an excuse to take away property rights of people who once called those unregulated communities home.
Following the monster storm’s passage, the Minnis administration issued a six-month prohibition ban for all Abaco shanty towns.
However, Rights Bahamas said the order should not have only been directed at those areas.
In August 2018, the Supreme Court allowed an injunction barring the Minnis administration from moving ahead with its August 10, 2018 eviction deadline for unregulated New Providence communities.
The court also ordered government and utility providers to halt any planned service disconnections or evictions in shanty towns pending a judicial review of the Minnis administration’s policy to eradicate those communities.
Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson at the time granted the interlocutory injunction blocking evictions and service disconnections just days ahead of the government’s 2018 deadline during a telephone conference with human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, and Mr Bethel.