By Elesha George
Within the next 12 months, the government will make allowances for Antiguans to own freehold lands on Barbuda.
Historically, lands on Barbuda were thought to be owned in common by the natives of the sister isle and had only been leased to people desirous of building there, including to those who are born or are descendants of the island.
Under the 1904 Barbuda Act, the land on the sister isle was vested in the Crown to be held on behalf of the people of Barbuda which only gave Barbudans the right to lease and occupy the land.
In 2018, the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) government repealed the Barbuda Land Act which legally allowed this centuries-old practice to be maintained. The Act had been passed by the then United Progressive Party (UPP) government in 2007.
The ABLP government also amended the original Act to allow Barbudans to have private ownership of the land, but on Monday the head of the government went a step further in offering to sell private lands to Antiguans as well.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said his government would no longer uphold the arrangement as it was disadvantageous to people born on Antigua.
“At one point we said that we would not allow Antiguans to own freehold land in Barbuda [but] I want to say that that is unconstitutional and there is no way that we are pursuing that,” he told the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
Browne explained that Antigua and Barbuda is one country and all of the assets in that country including all of the lands, must be made available to all citizens of the twin island state.
“I am putting Trevor Walker and the [Barbuda] Council on notice, that my administration, after we would have established the register, that we’ll be selling land on Barbuda on a freehold basis to Antiguans and Barbudans and there is nothing they can do about it because, legally, the land belongs to the Crown,” he declared.
The government wants to create a land registry for both Antigua and Barbuda under which the purchase and lease of lands can be monitored. He said the discussion would come up in Cabinet on Wednesday and funds will be disbursed shortly to start the process of creating an island-wide registry.
The prime minister said the process is likely to take 12 months, after which he will enforce private land purchase on Barbuda.
Browne, however, said that he would recommend to Cabinet that large development projects involving ex-patriots remain on a leasehold basis.
The prime minister declared that there is nothing in law or in the country’s constitution that stops the crown from selling land on a freehold or lease hold basis. He said it has always been “legally permissible”.
Browne stressed that after November 1, 1981 (Independence Day) there were no longer separate nationalities among Antiguans and Barbudans, as he maintained that all resources within the unitary state belong to Antiguans as much as they belong to Barbudans.