Barbuda Council accuses gov’t of politicising secession issue

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By Carlena Knight

The Barbuda Council is now accusing central government of politicising the issue surrounding the resolution to discuss a separate future for the sister isle.

During an interview with Observer media yesterday, the council’s secretary, Paul Nedd, argued that the matter went from the Cabinet level to parliament, which resulted in a ‘no’ vote.

On Monday, parliamentarians voted against a resolution that would have started the process to allow Barbuda to separate from mainland Antigua.

In fact, 10 government Members of Parliament registered their votes in the absence of the two opposition MPs, Trevor Walker and Jamale Pringle.

In August, the Barbuda Council formally wrote to the government to request the start of the “necessary steps to discuss a separate future for Barbuda and its people”.

Among their concerns were the repeal of the 2007 Barbuda Land Act; the derogatory name-calling by the prime minister in reference to Barbudans; threats from the prime minister to remove the Barbuda Council from the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution by way of a referendum; allowing the Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) developer to “destroy” a RAMSAR site with impunity by constructing a golf course at Palmetto Point; and withholding of funds transfer grants, subventions and lease payments from the Barbuda Council which caused the council to fail to meet its financial obligations.

However, the council is yet to receive an official response from Cabinet Secretary Konata Lee to whom the initial request for a discussion was addressed.

“We just wanted an open and friendly discussion as to how we go forward, but we have not had any response from Cabinet since we sent that letter of resolution,” Nedd said.

During his presentation in Parliament last Thursday, Walker — the representative for Barbuda — spoke in favour of the resolution while Pringle declined to support the resolution on the grounds that the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) could not support a division between the two islands after having done so much during its tenure to strengthen ties.

In addition, Prime Minister Gaston Browne also told the Lower House that further changes will be made to the Barbuda Land Act to make it possible for Antiguans to purchase lands on the sister isle.

Under the 1904 Barbuda Act, the land of the sister isle was vested in the Crown to be held on behalf of the people of Barbuda, which apparently only gave Barbudans the right to lease and occupy the land.

In 2018, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) government repealed the 2007 Barbuda Land Act, effectively ending the centuries-old practice of communal land ownership.

The ABLP government also amended the original Act to allow Barbudans to have private ownership of the land, but on Monday the head of government went a step further in offering to sell private lands to Antiguans as well, as Browne said it was disadvantageous to people born in Antigua.

This has now prompted the council to mobilise and, according to Nedd, the body will be meeting within the next few days to discuss the outcome of the PM’s declaration as well as the Barbuda secession matter.

“We are cognisant of the fact that Gaston Browne made the statement quite literally that Antiguans will be in a position to begin purchasing land on Barbuda within the next year. That is a matter that the council will be visiting and having a discussion on further policy making and a resolution to that,” Nedd revealed.

Nedd further mentioned that the Barbuda Council will reflect its intention in a detailed press release after members have met and agreed on the way forward.

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