FRED Smith, QC, certainly knows how to catch attention. In his latest collision with the government over shanty towns, he compares government policy to that of Stalin. Asked to tone it down by the court, he offered an alternative of Mao Zedong in China, whose cultural revolution “destroyed the homes of 20 million people”.
It’s not 20 million here in The Bahamas, but 20,000 that Mr Smith says are at risk – and he insists the government is not entitled to take possession of property as it plans under section four of the Building Regulations Act.
Whether his words are hyperbole or not, Mr Smith has a long track record of winning his cases – and he raises a number of very good points in his case.
For example, he asks why there is talk of the need to deal with buildings that are not built to code when surveys have found that up to 60 percent of shanty towns are “code worthy”. Indeed, if it’s just about making sure buildings are fit for purpose, why is it that only shanty towns are being targeted and not communities in, say, the Over-the-Hill area where buildings might not be up to scratch too?
As for who is being targeted, back in 2018 Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes revealed findings that showed shanty towns are either owned by Bahamians or that Bahamians have lease approval to oversee properties there. So why is the government looking to take land away from Bahamians?
Mr Smith notes that the action plan of the Shanty Town Action Task Force is to integrate Bahamians of Haitian descent into “mainstream Bahamian society”, deport immigrants with no legal status and demolish all the shanty towns.
It seems likelier to alienate someone rather than integrate them if they have legal status to a residence and the government comes along and knocks it down. How forgiving would you be if the government knocked down your home that you’re entitled to be in?
As Mr Smith says, “If there is to be some kind of cultural integration, what (good) does it do, in my submission, by destroying the homes of 20,000 people?”
He continues: “This is really a racist and discriminatory policy… this reveals that the policy is expressly motivated by the race, ethnicity or immigration status of the residents in the shanty towns.”
If this is a policy about building codes, then it would need to be applied universally, shanty town or any street. If it is a policy that targets specific parts of our population, it does indeed open the door to being called discriminatory.
There are already laws to deal with the arrest and deportation of people who have no legal status – so that can be applied already.
But for those who do have a right to be here – either being Bahamians or having legal status – why should they be targeted?
Mr Smith puts it clearly: “The government has no overarching power just to demolish wholesale communities that they don’t even own the land to.”
Nor should they.
There absolutely are issues surrounding shanty towns, but is this literally taking a sledgehammer to the matter rather than finding a better solution?
The case continues, and we shall watch with interest. As, we imagine, will every Bahamian whose rightful home is being put at risk.