By Elesha George
An appeals case which will ultimately determine whether two men – MacKenzie Frank and Trevor Walker – are to be compensated for land sold to the founders of Paradise Found will determine future development on Barbuda.
According to Trevor Walker, who is the Member of Parliament (MP) for Barbuda and the Leader of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), the now fully led BPM Barbuda Council will not support any further land developments until the ruling by the UK-based Privy Council.
“It is our firm position that the central government should not do anything when it comes to land in Barbuda until the case is heard. The matter is before the court,” he said at the induction of the new and re-elected Council members.
The case, which is informally known as the “Barbuda land case” is expected to be heard some time in June but in the meantime, Walker says the council won’t even entertain the possibility of implementing a long-talked about land registry system for the island.
Last week, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said that the government had every intention of continuing with the development projects already outlined and noted his personal oversight of the land registry which will allow central government to keep tabs on who owns what and on the sister isle.
“If the government decided to come to Barbuda without consulting us, without going through the Barbuda Council and the people, [then] whenever they mark a piece of land on Barbuda, the Barbuda Council is going to put down something on that land. Then they will see what the people of Barbuda made of,” Walker remarked.
He insists that land in Barbuda is for the people of Barbuda and said that based on the recent landslide election, the government should adhere to the will of Barbudans who voted in favour of the BPM – a clear sign that they do not agree with the government’s development plans for the island.
Just this week, a New York Times article suggested that Barbuda may be the next St Barts, which is known for its white sand beaches, high-end clientele and designer shops.
The article quoted Mike Meldman, co-founder of the Barbuda Ocean Club, who said the Barbuda Ocean Club, along with other projects by his partner John Paul DeJoria, will make Barbuda a more private version of St Barts.
According to Meldman, “I think it will be like St Barts, but from a private resort standpoint. It will be like if you made St Barts private and really limited to the people who go there. It will be much more intimate. You won’t have the people that are just there for a few days to drink rosé.”
But MP Walker says his people have no interest in investing further into projects like these, especially when they do not benefit the residents there.
“We don’t want Barbuda to be turned into a St Barts, nor a Jumby Bay, nor a Sint Maarten nor an Antigua. Our development must be curtailed to provide for us and ensure that we are a part of that development,” he said.
The case by the two men against the government was mounted following the passage of the Paradise Found Act (2015) which nullified critical sections of the Barbuda Land Act that speak to ownership of land.
The duo is arguing that on November 3, 2014, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda entered into a lease agreement with Paradise Found LLC to lease land in Barbuda for the purpose of a tourism development project.
In order to give effect to the lease agreement, the government passed the Paradise Found Act with a provision that the Barbuda Land Act of 2007 does not apply to the leased parcels.
However, Frank and Walker claimed entitlement to constitutional relief on the basis that they are Barbudans within meaning of the Land Act and that the land in Barbuda was owned in common by the Barbudan people and therefore was compulsorily acquired or expropriated and done so not for public use.
The agreement, they argued, therefore violates section nine of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda, which addresses the deprivation of property without fair compensation.
For all this, the men believe that they must be compensated.
The Privy Council is the final court of appeals for the twin island state and its ruling will be consequential in the way development can continue on Barbuda.
Observer has reached out to the Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin of the legalities of the Council’s decision not to support government land projects on Barbuda.