The extensive damage and destruction to The Mudd from Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/AP
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY Fred Smith says the property rights of residents from The Mudd and Pigeon Peas survived Hurricane Dorian’s destruction of buildings in their communities.
He suggested that though the government has issued a prohibition order against residential and commercial construction in the areas, the legal fight over the future of the property is not complete.
“The government couldn’t take away their property rights before Dorian and so the government cannot legally use the disaster of Dorian to now take away the same property rights that existed before Dorian,” he said. “Just like every other community, they have a right to rebuild.”
Many of The Mudd and Pigeon Peas residents are staying in shelters around New Providence, anxious about their next move. Some dream about going to the United States, some plan to relocate to Haiti but many say they want to return to Abaco.
Mr Smith, QC, said it is their right to have whatever remains of their community “respected just like everybody else in every other devastated community in Abaco.”
“Just because the shantytowns may not look nice or may not be built to code or they don’t smell nice or they are a poor community or that they are mainly composed of people of Haitian ethnic origin, doesn’t mean that they are not entitled to due process in respect of their property rights under Article 27 of the Constitution,” he said in a statement to The Tribune.
Splintered wood, cracked concrete and scattered belongings now lay where the communities once existed as the largest shantytowns in the country, home to more than 3,000 people, many of them legal residents. As the decimation of the shanty towns became clear, some attacked Mr Smith on social media, accusing him of facilitating the habitation of unsafe living conditions.
Mr Smith is part of a legal fight that blocked the government’s plans to eradicate shanty towns in New Providence and by extension Abaco.
“I can see that rebuilding must be according to code,” Mr Smith said yesterday, adding that the government should either help residents rebuild with sanitation and stronger homes or provide alternative property or homes.
“The process of considering their applications must be on the same basis that other applications are to be considered for every other person in every other community that was destroyed by Dorian. So the prohibition order, if it should have been made at this time or at all, should not have been made or only directed to the shanty towns; if it was to be made at all, it should have been a prohibition order in respect of call communities, not just the Haitian Bahamian ones. They have a right to go back into possession on the same basis that they were in possession before Dorian. Dorian doesn’t give the government the lawful power to dispossess them just like the government didn’t have the lawful power to do so before Dorian.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel declined to comment yesterday.
Earlier this week, he said the destruction of The Mudd and Pigeon Peas shows the low-lying areas are unsafe for human habitation in the face of powerful storms.