Government of Bahamas defends policy to clear shantytowns in Abaco

Attorney General Carl Bethel speaks with the media outside the Churchill Building yesterday. (Photo: Courtesy Bahamas Chronicle)

The Bahamas Government has defended its decision to clear shantytowns in Abaco and the acquisition of lands that had been reduced to debris by Hurricane Dorian which swept through the archipelago on September 1.

Attorney General Carl Bethel, responding to a letter sent to the Office of the Attorney General by human rights attorney Fred Smith said that the decision to remove the debris does not constitute a violation of a court injunction.

Smith, a Queen’s Counsel, had claimed that the move by the government was in violation of an injunction handed down by a judge last year blocking the demolition of shantytown structures while a court matter in relation to those communities remains outstanding.

But Bethel insisted that there were provisions under both the Environmental Health Services Act and the Buildings Regulations Act to accomplish the government’s new initiative.

‘There is the very real prospect that human remains are located among the debris and the rubble.’

— Attorney General Carl Bethel

“As you are aware, in addition to environmental concerns caused by the deposit of noxious substances and other pollutants into the environment, there is the very real prospect that human remains are located among the debris and the rubble,” he said, adding, “these remains have to be located, recovered and processed according to the highest international and humanitarian standards.”

Bethel said that the law gives the minister with responsibility for works “special emergency powers” to demolish and remove structures made irreparably dangerous due to the occurrence of “flood, fire, hurricane or any other disaster”, subject only to preserving valuable contents for the owners of such premises to the extent such salvage is possible without endangering the safety of anyone.