The first reading of the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act was done in the Lower House yesterday, signalling the seriousness of the government when it said it will amend the 2006 law.
But, Barbuda MP Arthur Nibbs, the man who was supposed to move the Bill was notably absent, like he was in October 2015, when the Paradise Found Bill was tabled and debated in Parliament.
It was Prime Minster Gaston Browne who tabled the Bill.
“Madame Speaker, on behalf of the minister of agriculture, lands and Barbuda affairs, I move the first reading of the following Bill for an Act shortly entitled The Barbuda Land amendment Bill of 2017,” the leader read.
While he was doing this, several members of two opposition parties were protesting outside of Parliament while others sat inside to observe the proceedings.
Before a Bill is passed into law, it has to be read three times and debated in the Lower House. It also needs the ascent of the governor general.
OBSERVER media reached out to the Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin to find out about the stage of preparation of the proposed changes to the Barbuda Land Act.
However, we were unsuccessful in reaching him. But, a source at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, said the Bill is still being drafted, so the document, titled ‘Barbuda Land Management (Amendment) Act’ which was circulating on social media yesterday, is not the final document.
The prime minister confirmed to OBSERVER media yesterday morning that the Act is being reviewed by a number of legal experts.
“They will, based on their own experience, training and deliberate judgment, identify those unconstitutional provisions and we will go to parliament and we will have them removed,” he said.
At the time when he spoke with our news organisation, he was not aware that the Bill was to be tabled since it was not listed on the Order Paper for the day’s proceedings in the Lower House. But, when he and his colleagues got there, an amended Order Paper was distributed and the Amendment was one of the matters listed.
OBSERVER media had also received from the government, in the wee hours of yesterday, a list of all the matters for debate and discussion in Parliament, and that email did not list the Barbuda Land Act as one of the legislations to be amended.
Since 2015, the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration had said it would change the Act which, the prime minister has dubbed “unconstitutional.”
The prime minister said, once the experts have made their recommendations and prepared the draft, “we will go to parliament and we will have them [the unconstitutional parts] removed. We all know there are a number of unconstitutional provisions and I do not wish to pre-empt the Ministry of Legal Affairs, but you can be assured that those matters obviously will be addressed.”
He said it would not be accurate to state that the move is to take away or take over the land from Barbudans.
The prime minister said the opportunity for Barbudans to own their land still stands.
“If you want to continue to live communally without title, that is fine … they can continue to exercise that option, but we are saying here that an additional option will be given to them so that if they so desire, they will have freehold ownership of land in Barbuda,” he said.
The country’s leader said this is an option available for Barbudans only “so all investors who come to the country obviously if they want to invest in Barbuda, land will continue to be given on a lease own basis.”
In fact, he added, “not even Antiguans we are allowing to part take in the purchase of land in Barbuda, which in itself is not constitutional.”