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No one anywhere in the world would believe that it took all of three years (give or take a week or two) for the Hanna Thomas Hospital in Barbuda to be fully restored, Remember,  it was destroyed by by Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017. What followed in the three years since, is a study in bureaucratic roadblocks by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and malignant neglect by this Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration. It was not their finest hour. For example, it appears as though the UNDP had placed so many onerous conditions on the disbursement of the $1M donation from the Narendra Modi-led government of India, that no local construction companies were able to meet the qualification threshold. This manifest red-taping, particularly at a time of dire need (the people of Barbuda desperately needed a hospital), was allowed to fester for some two years, until the Barbuda Council threatened to fix the hospital on its own.

That was when this half-asleep administration (when it pertains to Barbuda affairs) swung into action. Our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, to his credit, albeit belatedly, said that he had to intercede with the UNDP and request that the burdensome stipulations for release of the India funds be relaxed. They were, and that resulted in this past Friday’s handing over ceremony.

Of course, we certainly wish to thank the government and people of India for their graciousness and generosity at a time when we were flat on our faces. Perhaps, even more than the money, their act of kindness gave us a reassurance that we are not alone in the midst of the tempest. It was indeed a still, small, voice of calm. Their magnanimity will never be forgotten.

Similarly, we wish to thank the Roberts Construction Company for the splendid job it did in the hospital restoration. The Hanna Thomas Hospital is now a thing of beauty, a redoubt of hope and healing, and more importantly, it is better and stronger, in keeping with the UNDP mantra, “BUILD BACK BETTER.” Health Minister Molwyn Joseph explained further by saying, “The Ministry of health requested the support of PAHO to redesign the Hanna Thomas Hospital, so you are getting a hospital designed by experts.” Hats off!

At the handing over ceremony, there were smiles and hi-fives and a good vibe all around. Similarly, at the handing over ceremony for twenty new homes, the Prime Minister threw his arms around MP Trevor Walker and one of the house recipients. Seemed, everyone wanted to put aside the rancour and ill-will that has marked the relationship between the sister isle and the central government. Would to God that this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship! Would to God that after so many years of bickering and name-calling and condescension, that we could turn the page and begin anew with a clean sheet! To be fair, the bad blood and cynicism between this ABLP administration and the people of Barbuda, is nothing new. It has been an unfortunate part of our relationship for generations. The Prime Minister was careful to point that out in his recent remarks on the thorny Barbuda question. Nonetheless, there can be no denying that his intemperate and downright disrespectful utterances about the Barbudans have been most unhelpful. Indeed, they have exacerbated the already tenuous situation. As a matter of fact, MP Walker dismissed the PM’s hug as “disingenuous” and a “photo op.  

And with good reason. What people, with any modicum of self-respect and pride, would abide being called ‘mendicants,’ ‘squatters,’ ‘deracinated imbeciles,’ ‘in-breeders’ and other such dehumanising epithets? What people would tolerate being told that all their claims about the land upon which their ancestors lived and toiled is a myth? What people would turn a deaf ear to being told that “They MUST comply” (Minister Samantha Marshall) with the wishes and demands of the central government, and that the police and the army will be sent over to arrest and put them under heavy manners? (PM Browne) How can there be a good relationship when the people of Barbuda are told that our PM “would rather fight them” than turn away from the Peace, Love and Happiness project (PLH) project? Indeed, our PM has “made it abundantly clear” that he’d rather resign than give the Barbudans any quarter. He is full-square on the side of foreign investors against his own people. Good grief! Seems, this Peace, Love and Happiness project is a misnomer; it is anything but. All the legitimate environmental concerns of the Barbudan people be damned. The rich people will have their playground (a golf course) at all costs! Sigh!

Which beggars the following questions: Are there people who still think like this in today’s progressive world? What ever happened to social and environmental responsibility? What about good corporate citizenry? Are those who care only about their precious little golf course so obtuse and tone deaf? They care not a whit about the people who’ve lived on the land for hundreds of years? Is there not an uncanny similarity between these developers in Barbuda and those ‘developers’ (we are being kind) who pillaged and plundered and destroyed forests and vast swarths of Mother Earth when supposedly ‘developing’ Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America?  

Meanwhile, there’s more bad blood and vitriol. Shortly after the last election, our PM, in a fit of pique and candour, indicated that he was happy that he’d been rejected by the Barbudans, and that as a result of the rejection, he was no longer going to kiss-up and pander to them. He has remained true to his word.  And yes, he has suggested that he will be looking into ways to abolish the Barbuda Council. Indeed, in a recent offering, the PM said that “All that we’ve gotten from the Barbudans is ingratitude, after ingratitude after ingratitude . . .  and they better learn to give thanks!” Talk about muddying the water!

Look folks, we could go on and on and on with a litany of the grievous words that have been exchanged. Indeed, the Barbudans, in response to provocations from the central government, have responded in kind with some choice invective and actions of their own. The Barbudans are a strong-willed people. Just ask Sir Lester Bird, he of Barbudan lineage, whom they once rejected at the polls, then had the temerity to stone. Just ask their former MP, Arthur Nibbs, whom they rejected at the polls, then burned in effigy, before performing his symbolic funeral. Just ask the Codrington overseers who tried to get them to come over to Antigua to work on the Codrington estates. They vociferously made their disgust known at that ugly prospect.

Our PM is correct in his recent assertion that the strife between Antigua and Barbuda is nothing new. He has said that the friction did not begin with him and his administration. True. But the harsh and uncompromising rhetoric has not helped any. We here at NEWSCO, as we have done in the past, are urging that there be a meeting of the minds in a spirit of comity and goodwill. The handing over of the keys to the Hanna Thomas Hospital to the Barbuda Council, and the twenty new homes to needy Barbudans, is as good a time as any for the PLH folks and the central government, and the Barbuda Council to find the happy medium.

As Lord Nelson said in his 1981 classic, ONE FAMILY, about the relationship between Trinidad and little sister, Tobago: “Mama tell me since a baby / Doh pass people just so when you in Tobago / Doh play proudy, tell dem howdy / Ah say, What’s the reason Mammy / Is then she tell me / She say, All ah we is one family (Repeat) Hold tight / Jam tight /Rock tight
You cyah doubt me, facts is history / Old time people will know how we come to be so /
Bound together, one another / Nothing could separate we from since in slavery/
When he building, or she planting / Everybody helping, no money ent passing /
Is tradition on the island / Nowhere else that I know is like sweet Tobago/ When we working or we loving / Is so the whole day long / Going from dusk to dawn / Rubbing shoulder all together / Poopa, gangan, tanty, macomere, pickney / All ah we is one family . . .”

We is one family, indeed! May the ties that bind us, ever be blest! May we emerge from last week’s love-fest with a more amicable relationship – one based on mutual respect and our shared ancestry and struggle.

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