NOTCH up another defeat in the courts for the government.
In this case, the government had been rattling its sabre over demolition of shanty towns – while Fred Smith, QC, urged officials to wait for the outcome of the court case on the matter.
Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson added legal weight to that call, ordering the government to “cease and desist” from “any further interference” with shanty towns until the pending judicial review is resolved. That also extended the order to cover the affected communities in Abaco, including The Farm shanty town where the government recently moved in to start demolition work.
More than that, Justice Grant-Thompson also told off the government for demolishing buildings without first getting approval from the court.
If the government wants to demolish specific properties, it has to come to the court to show why. The government was also alleged to not just be clearing debris in the Mudd and Pigeon Peas, but to be clearing land and structures whether or not they were damaged. One man’s home, where he had lived for 30 years and which was reportedly valued at $100,000, was said to be among those demolished.
When it came to the clearances in Abaco, Justice Grant-Thompson was forthright on the actions of the government in setting about wholesale clearances without asking for a variation to the previous injunction, saying: “This is plainly wrong and not in the spirit of the respectful negotiations which had been ongoing between these parties from the commencement of this matter.”
At the heart of her words, however, she made clear we cannot treat some people differently from others. She said: “The Court remains mindful of the human element involved. These individuals have fundamental rights which do not only extend to citizens of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, but are universal. It is important that the Commonwealth of The Bahamas continues to display mutual value and respect for the lives of everyone within our country regardless of who they are or where they originated from.”
Read that last part again. Regardless of who they are or where they originated from. Human rights apply to everyone.
We cannot go tearing people’s houses down just because of where they come from. There are rights. There is a legal process – and that is what Mr Smith was asking the government to wait for rather than carrying on with demolitions.
It also sees the court largely align with criticism from the United Nations, which called on the government to halt demolitions and wait for the Supreme Court review. That prompted Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson to attack the UN, citing the sovereignty of The Bahamas. Well, what will he say now of The Bahamas’ own courts?
Our moves here at home come at the same time as we hold the vice presidency of the Human Rights Council – so our actions seem at odds with our words elsewhere. We must heed the words of Justice Grant-Thompson, and recognise those fundamental, universal rights. After all, if we ignore them for one person, we cannot rely on them to protect ourselves.
The Tribune has been following developments closely regarding the Paradise Island plans of Royal Caribbean – and how another entrepreneur’s plans for the lighthouse there seem to have become entangled in the back and forth.
It was revealed in The Tribune last week, for example, that Royal Caribbean has yet to secure an actual Crown land lease for its project. The cruise company has bought several acres – but the Crown land belongs to the government. Royal Caribbean has asked for that lease, but has not received it yet.
Nearby, Toby Smith, the man behind the $2m lighthouse and beach club plan, had been trying for months to get an answer on whether Royal Caribbean had such a lease – with no success.
Now, activists have raised pertinent questions as to whether the government is acting in the Bahamian people’s best interests with regard to such a lease – not just with regard to how it might affect a neighbouring investor, but also the effect on businesses in Downtown Nassau.
Save The Bays hopes that “the government is giving serious attention to the many public interest issues at stake”.
Serious consideration is very much warranted. Royal Caribbean’s plan may well come to provide a broader benefit – but a little more transparency on the state of matters would certainly do the process good. The right decision is never held back by straight answers.