By Orville Williams
Barbudans are adamant that their lands are not ‘up for grabs’ despite the decision handed down by the Privy Council earlier this week, as they voiced their resistance in a post-judgement townhall meeting on Tuesday.
In a 20-page ruling, the country’s final appellate court determined on Monday that Barbuda MP Trevor Walker and founding member of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), Mackenzie Frank, had “no realistic prospect of succeeding in their claim under section 9 (1) of the constitution”.
The London-based court found, too, that the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal had been correct to strike out the claim when the government appealed a High Court judgement that went in the Barbudans’ favour.
Both Walker and Frank – along with many Barbudans – insist that the Barbuda Land Act of 2007 dictates the right of native Barbudans to ownership of the island’s lands, and any benefits derived from said lands.
And they adopted a more militant posture on the matter following the passing of the Paradise Found Act of 2015 by the government, an act that negates crucial sections of the Barbuda Land Act that refer to ownership.
On Tuesday evening, a group of Barbudans participated in a townhall meeting to discuss the issue, and according to environmental activist and prominent Barbudan John Mussington, the feeling among the locals is one of defiance.
“The main thing to arise in that meeting was the fact that the administration itself, the central government, is saying that it’s ‘game over’ and people are now going to come and buy land in Barbuda as they feel like.
“No such thing is going to happen. At least, we will not allow that to happen,” Mussington stated.
The often-vocal Mussington also shared his personal views on the court ruling which, based on precedent, will only serve to widen the divide between Barbuda and the central government.
“That Privy Council decision gives them no such leeway with regard to the lands of Barbuda. The Barbuda Local Government Act of 1976 is still pretty much in force, and that act creates a Barbuda Council which has the responsibility of administering the island of Barbuda … in specific areas which include agriculture [and] forestry which has to do with the lands.
“So, the people of Barbuda – through its local government – will continue to operate as it always did with regard to distributing and managing the lands of Barbuda,” he insisted.
MP Walker has already voiced his disappointment with the Privy Council ruling, maintaining that Barbudans “will not be playing dead” in the fight to own their lands.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has urged the residents of Barbuda as well as those on the mainland to move past the dispute and to collaborate for the betterment of the twin island state.