MINISTER of Works Desmond Bannister.
Photo: Donovan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister criticised a Supreme Court ruling which bans the government from further demolishing shanty town structures across Abaco, saying it has set a “dangerous” precedent that has “usurped” the power of the Ministry of Works.
He also said the decision would create “open season” for anyone to illegally build on land they do not own.
In her ruling on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson ordered an extension of her injunction to include all unregulated communities in Abaco. The injunction prohibits the government from evicting shanty town residents and disconnecting services in their communities.
She ordered the government to “cease and desist” from “any further interference” with the respective communities until the outcome of a pending judicial review and also admonished officials for moving to demolish the structures without first getting approval from the court.
Justice Grant-Thompson’s ruling comes after the Ministry of Works spearheaded the demolition of 45 “incomplete and unoccupied structures” in The Farm shanty town in Abaco in April and followed up with further demolitions last month.
Yesterday, Mr Bannister called the ruling “a flawed decision” and “wrong in law”.
“The Free National Movement is a government of laws as we respect the law and insofar as that decision represents the law right now we’re going to follow it, but I just want y’all to think in a democracy you are entitled to criticise decisions,” he said.
“In my view, it is a flawed decision. It is wrong in law. It is wrong and we expect that we will have it overturned and I’ll tell you why. There were two injunctions in place. The first injunction prohibited the government from demolishing shanty towns and buildings and structures, etc. The second injunction stopped people from building those structures. Every one of those buildings that we were demolishing on The Farm was built contrary to the court’s injunction.
“. . . You have a judge who has made the decision, and I want y’all to understand how dangerous this is for the country right now, that we can’t demolish these structures unless we go to her. What that has done is, she has usurped the statutory powers of the building control officers in the Ministry of Works. She has usurped the statutory powers of officers throughout the various ministries in the country and the judge is now determining whether they could carry out their duties in accordance with the law—that has to be wrong.
“The second thing is this—it is now open season for anybody to go on any land and put up any structure they want and not comply with the law. So you can have your land wherever you want. Somebody could go there, put up a structure on it and the building control people, instead of being able to enforce the law, even though they don’t have a permit for it, are going to have to go apply to this judge to be able to come and demolish that structure.”
He argued: “So right now in Abaco. . .they could go in Pelican Shores. They could go in Elbow Cay. They could go in Treasure Cay. They could go in any of these upscale areas, put a building there on somebody’s property, don’t care whose property it is, and in order to do something about it—they (are) not in breach of the order—but in order to do something about it, to enforce the law, the government is going to have to make an application to a judge. You know how silly that sounds?”
Mr Bannister also said the ruling “doesn’t make sense” and is not “worth the paper it is written on”.
Outside of Cabinet yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel said he met with the counsel involved in the matter that morning and restated the government’s intent to appeal.
“We respectfully disagree with the reasoning of the learned judge,” Mr Bethel said. “We respectfully disagree with the conclusions arrived at by the learned judge and we will be appealing or seeking leave from the judge to appeal on the basis of urgency to the Court of Appeal where we hope that this matter will be definitively resolved by the Court of Appeal.”
For his part, North Abaco MP Darren Henfield said the government is interested in regulating buildings in The Bahamas as he highlighted his concerns about shanty towns.
“I’m concerned about the environmental degradation. I’m concerned about unregulated buildings. I’m concerned that we’re in the hurricane season again and we saw what Dorian did with shanty communities in Abaco. We were there. We saw it, many of us. The Mud, The Pea, Sandbanks all destroyed – portions of The Farm. Lots of lives lost. That’s the interest of the government to regulate buildings in The Bahamas,” he said.