By Shermain Bique-Charles
After years of tension between the Barbuda Council, central government and the principals of the Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) project, efforts to address several wedge issues remain underway.
Chairman of the Barbuda Council, Mackenzie Frank, said among the financial matters of concern are the payment of tonnage dues for the port, and rent for land leased to PLH.
The council chair said while talks have begun, a response from PLH on matters discussed in a meeting that took place about a month ago is still outstanding.
“One of the big issues outstanding was the one with the payment of rent for those 420 acres and the 174 acres in the Palmetto area. We are still in discussion with them,” Frank added.
The Barbuda Council contends that over EC$2 million in fees is still owed by PLH.
The company has said that the funds being queried have been paid directly into the government’s Treasury.
But the council remains adamant that it is the lessor of the land and rent should be paid to it directly, according to the law.
Frank — who was speaking during Thursday’s Observer AM programme — steered clear of further muddying the waters as the council continues to press for the resolution of these issues.
“Our lawyers have been in touch with their lawyers, and we have also been in touch with the government through the Attorney General’s Office.
“We hope to get a resolution on this matter because it’s a long outstanding one. As you know, the people of Barbuda are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma,” he said.
However, PLH Project President Justin Wilshaw told Observer, “All leases PLH have are co-signed with both the Barbuda Council and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. As per current legislation, all payments are to be made to the Treasury.”
He added, “PLH can confirm that all payments are up to date and in fact in advance in some cases. Furthermore, the council has raised this previously through legal representatives; it was responded to and they were asked to refer to the government directly.
“In the interests of transparency, those payment details were shared with the council’s legal team.”
Frank continued that the cash-strapped council, which has an ongoing row with central government over the subvention that should be given to the local governing body, continues to struggle to meet its obligations.
“We are concerned that this money should reach the Barbuda Council Treasury because we have [to pay] workers. This is approaching 38 weeks of weekly wages. In case of the monthly workers, we stand at three to four months,” he explained.