There needs to be urgent resolution to the ongoing dispute between the Barbuda Council and the central government which has ensued over the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) development in Barbuda.
This was the viewpoint of two professionals after Prime Minister Gaston Browne suggested — via social media last week — that he’s considering holding a referendum with the objective of removing the Barbuda Council from the country’s Constitution.
“This is not the time for us to be getting smaller. This is the time for us to be united, watching the international scene very closely, and looking to get stronger and stronger,” Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies with specialisations in Dependency Theory and Caribbean Political Economy, Dr Paget Henry said.
Attorney and member of Antiguans and Barbudans for Constitutional Reform and Education (ABCRE), Ralph Bowen told Observer that he, too, strongly disagrees with such action.
“I will never support the secession of Barbuda, not because I think that the Barbudans don’t have credible arguments to be made on how they are treated by central government, but rather Antigua and Barbuda together as a unitary state can barely survive economically in the world; can barely compete economically,” Bowen said.
Bowen further stated that the government must listen to the voices of the people.
“Any development that takes place in this unitary state, no matter which part of the geography it takes place, has to be done in a manner and approved in a manner that serves the best interest of the people,” he added.
Dr Henry suggested that a mechanism be developed to “negotiate down some of these differences that will inevitably arrive”.
He added that if the two islands were to separate, in any form, it would “be an embarrassment on both sides and will not qualify the future leaders of Antigua or Barbuda as a separate state, to lead these countries”.
He further explained that the underlying problem leading to the “inflammatory” statements is what is referred to as insularism.
“We need to acknowledge that we discriminate on the basis of island identities; until we acknowledge this as part of our reality that needs to be transformed, it’s going to keep biting us in the tail, Dr Henry posited.
Meanwhile, Bowen explained that such a separation would firstly require the consent of the Barbuda Council.
“We have to think about that in the context of how the council was created, the enabling legislation that created it — that is the 1976 Barbuda Local Government Act — and the constitutional protections that exist under section 123 of our Constitution to ensure that, to the extent that that changes, it is done so with the agreement of the Barbudans,” the lawyer explained.
The heated discourse between the Prime Minister and Barbuda Member of Parliament (MP) Trevor Walker intensified when Browne issued a warning to Walker to the effect that he will order police intervention, if the MP continues to ignore the country’s laws.
In Parliament last Thursday, Browne noted that – in his position on the National Security Council – he could very well order action against Walker, if the need arises.
The prime minister’s comments were in response to comments the Barbuda MP had made earlier in Parliament, that the prime minister did not have the power to arrest him.
However, Browne told Walker that if he and the Barbuda Council members do not respect the property rights of the PLH developers and did not tone down the rhetoric, he would take action against them.
Last month, a council member was arrested for obstruction, when the group assembled at the PLH’s Palmetto Point site, to protest environmental damage concerns.
Browne said a recent report from the Department of Environment noted that there was “no environmental violation” taking place.