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QC rejects AG’s assertion on PI crown land fight

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Attorney Wayne Munroe, QC. (File photo)

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

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.

Comments

truetruebahamian 1 year, 5 months ago

Toby deserves this and NCL nothing!

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licks2 1 year, 5 months ago

Fully concurred for and to what?? QC Munroe is well known for "TRYING" DEAD CASES IN THE PUBLIC PRESS!!! TOBY DESEVES WHAT?? HE CAN'T EVEN PAY TO PUT IN DESECENT BREAK-WATERS!! You tell me. . .2 million vs. 80,million. . .what is better to bring yall lil hips into modern and sustainable infrastructure for developments?

It took Toby over 10 years to raised 2 million. . .and NCL no time flat to raised 80 million? YINNA EEN CONCURRING. . .YINNA PLAYIN STUPID!!! FURTHER MORE. . . no contract is valid until the owner signs over his private property to he who wants to buy it!!

Just like an LOI is not legally binding for transfer of ownership (remember the dump LOI?) Toby Smith did not have a legally binding lease for that property. . .he was just one of three under consideration for the lease. . .in such case the owner can sign over his property to whomever he/she likes best. . .that's in our Constitution!! Smith and Munroe know that fact. . .it is just why they are trying their case in the "public opinion". . .there are biased persons who will not accept truth when it does not go with their agenda. . .usually in the Bahamas it's politics!! This one is pure politics! Nay. . .rather. . .tis stupid!!

This dumbness is seen in the matter of Culbert Buster Evans vs. Public Services Commission, 27th, January, 2020: (2018/PUB/Con/0006) and Holmond McDonald vs. The Public Services Board of Appeal: (SCCiv App No. 26 of 2014) hearing dates 8th, March 2016 and 5th, September, 2016.

Lawyers can say anything in public to make politicians "get scared" and back off a matter . . .those lawyers know that they will neve win in court. . .like those two cases above!!

In public opinion rule of law is less powerful than it is in the court of law!! Read those cases and yinna will see how some of these self-serving lawyer "take the people them money" knowing that in law they cannot win the case. . .all the while their clients "is assured" that they can win the case!!

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DWW 1 year, 5 months ago

ALL I WANT TO KNOW IS how much is being paid for this land? surely it is not being given away for a pittance. I don't care who gets it, let the highest bidder get it. It is cronyism or simple business? for F sake people.

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KapunkleUp 1 year, 5 months ago

Completely agree. Making monuments and historical sites is all very nice but our current debt is a more immediate problem. The government doesn't have to sell the land to the cruise line. A long term lease would be just as good.

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tribanon 1 year, 5 months ago

Don't be silly. Our government and our nation are possessed of a very limited supply of land and therefore it should never be sold or leased to the highest foreign bidder without regard to serious public policy initiatives that carefully consider and take into account the interests of the Bahamian people going forward. And of course we all know only too well that our dumb-arse corrupt political leaders of the past and present have failed miserably to protect and preserve this most scarce asset for the benefit of the Bahamian people.

You only have to look at how much beach front property is no longer available for public use in the more populated areas of our nation. Not to mention the massive tracts of land (like Albany), the many small islands, etc. that have been turned over to foreign ownership or foreign control by successive corrupt senior government officials only interested in serving their own interests as opposed to the interests of the Bahamian people. And there are rumours circulating that some in the Minnis-led FNM administration have even discussed the possibility of putting in place new legislation that would allow government to sell or lease prized landholdings of The Bahamas National Trust to foreign interests in order to acquire desperately needed foreign hard currency if the government's ability to borrow from abroad should become much too costly or otherwise seriously constrained. Let's hope that doesn't become a reality!

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