By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The QC acting for a Bahamian developer in his Paradise Island crown land lease dispute yesterday rejected the attorney general’s assertion that his client’s legal case was “going nowhere”.
Wayne Munroe, who is acting for Toby Smith and Paradise Lighthouse Beach Club in their action against the government, said they had already obtained a June 23, 2021, date before Supreme Court justice Ian Winder for a case management hearing.
Such hearings are normally held to settle the process for holding a full trial, and Mr Munroe said of assertions by Carl Bethel QC: “Maybe he’s thinking about another case, or trying to give Royal Caribbean peace of mind.”
The well-known QC confirmed that he has filed a writ and statement of claim on Mr Smith’s behalf, with the Attorney General’s Office having filed a defence for the Government. He spoke out after Mr Bethel hit back following Tribune Business’ revelations that he admitted Royal Caribbean was being “unreasonable” in its demands for some of the same Crown Land that Mr Smith believes he has a valid lease for.
Mr Bethel, in a statement, accused Mr Smith of leaking what he thought were private What’s App communications, saying: “As attorney general I was asked by Cabinet to conduct negotiations seeking to resolve the Toby Smith matter involving his proposed lease of Crown Land on Paradise Island. A face-to-face preliminary meeting was held.
“Subsequently, Mr Smith contacted me via social media on the basis of privacy. Negotiations continued on that basis. Regrettably, Mr Smith has breached the privacy that he himself indicated in his initial contact. Negotiations are not usually assisted by arguing and telling the other party to the negotiations that he, himself, is completely unreasonable.
“Since that time Mr Smith has commenced a legal action in the Supreme Court. Informal contact accordingly ceased. It is interesting to know that the said legal action seems not to be going anywhere, and that Mr Smith now appears to prefer litigating in the press rather than in court.”
The latter assertion was refuted by Mr Munroe, and Mr Smith also rejected Mr Bethel’s suggestion that their conversations were negotiations. “He told me, amongst other things, that they [the Government] were moving me unilaterally down the beach and pushing it down my throat,” he argued.
“In the spirit of healthy negotiations he should have asked if I was willing to move my agreed upon parcel. He was not prepared to put what he was ‘offering’ in writing, he would not even give me a copy of the plan highlighting where they were attempting to shove me on honey comb rock to operate a beach club to consider.”
Calling on the attorney general to “check his facts”, Mr Smith also released the January 7, 2020, letter he received from Richard Hardy, acting director of lands and surveys, which was headlined “approval Crown Land lease” for the two-acre and three-acre parcels he was seeking for his project.
The entrepreneur said he executed the lease and sent it back two days later after it was witnessed and notarised by Adrian White, the now-Town Planning Committee chair and FNM candidate for St Ann’s in the upcoming general election. It is understood Mr White has recused himself from the approval process for Royal Caribbean’s rival project.
The Government, though, is arguing that Mr Smith’s Crown Land lease was never executed, and is not valid and legally binding, because it never signed it.
Mr Smith has spent a decade trying to bring his project, which involves restoration of the lighthouse on Paradise Island’s western end, to fruition. He is seeking to lease two crown land parcels at Paradise Island’s western end, one of which involves two acres around the lighthouse, and the other three acres for the “beach break” element.
He previously voiced fears that his project was being “marginalised” and treated like “a second class citizen” to make way for Royal Caribbean’s Royal Beach Club, which is seeking the same three-acre parcel as part of a seven to ten-acre crown land tract it hopes to lease instead.
Documents filed as part of Royal Caribbean’s application for site plan approval, which was subjected to public consultation on April 28 this year, reveal that the cruise line was informed five days before Mr Hardy’s letter to Mr Smith that the Government had approved granting it crown land in the Colonial Beach area.
Candia Ferguson, the Bahamas Investment Authority’s (BIA) director, wrote to the cruise line’s attorney, Campbell Cleare at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, confirming that the Government had approved granting it Crown Land “in the vicinity of Colonial Beach”.
The January 2, 2020, letter noted that the exact area to be leased to Royal Caribbean was to be determined and “subject to availability”. And, some six to seven weeks later, Joshua Sears, the Prime Minister’s senior policy advisor, told Royal Caribbean on February 26, 2020, that the National Economic Council (NEC) - really the Cabinet - had approved the grant of ten acres of Crown Land.
This all took place at exactly the same time as Mr Smith was desperately trying to get the Government to execute his rival lease, and Mr Sears’ letter referenced “the existing interest of two other parties” in the same land although it did not name them.