By Elesha George
The Barbuda Council said it will not agree to make changes to the Barbuda Local Government Act that may cause it to lose control over sand mining and the subleasing of land.
“It clearly states that if you are going to change the Barbuda Local Government Act, the Barbuda Council must have a say in it. The Barbuda Council must pass a resolution in a council meeting to say yes, make changes to it, and that is not going to happen by this council, so that is not something that I’m really worried about,” Barbuda Council chairperson Calsey Beazer-Joseph told OBSERVER.
The Act is enshrined in the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution – the supreme law of the land – which means changes cannot be made without majority votes from sitting council members.
However, on March 4, the Cabinet said it had sought advice from the Solicitor General and four lawyers from the Department of Legal Affairs, to bring clarity on several issues, including whether the Act could be changed without amending the Constitution in which the Act is entrenched.
In displaying its lack of trust in the Barbuda Council, the Cabinet questioned whether the central government could bring sand mining in Barbuda under the control of “a competent authority” by amending The Beach Protection Act to include the sister isle.
The Cabinet is also mulling the idea of placing leases and subleases for land on Barbuda under the Cabinet’s/Governor General’s exclusive control. It plans to take these issues to Parliament next Tuesday.
In another bold move, Cabinet will explore whether citizenship, under Section 112 and 113 of the 1981 Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Order, can be automatically achieved by the grandchildren of Antiguans and Barbudans whose grandparents became citizens by registration and naturalisation.
Last Saturday, the council held an emergency meeting to discuss how the authority will address these statements and although it is not clear what actions the Barbuda Council has decided to take to prevent these changes, Beazer-Joseph said: “Barbudans are very much disturbed. We never thought that this prime minister would echo these words from his mouth.”
The issue all began after the Barbuda Council wrote a letter to the developers of Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) informing them of a stop order that it had placed on its US $250 million golf course project.
In a February 28 letter, Beazer-Joseph reportedly informed the Vice President of Operations at PLH, Darren Flanigan, of a list of topics for discussion ahead of a March 12 meeting.
The letter spoke of a requirement for monthly meetings with the Barbuda Council to update it on any challenges and changes to the project, how the investors planned to fulfil an outstanding balance to the Council, its rental commitments, the treatment of licence to sublet and vetting of subleases, as well as fees payable to the council’s treasury.
The Cabinet has deemed the stop order as wrong and unlawful, claiming that the Barbuda Council had “attempted to usurp the authority of the Development Control Authority”.
It then took the decision that the Council or any other body could not proceed with a stop order before the DCA consults with Cabinet.
PLH developers are proposing the million-dollar golf course project in an area, which the Department of Environment (DoE) has said is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges. The development, according to an official report from the DoE, presents a potential risk to the entire water system, human life, wildlife and the eco systems of Barbuda.
The development has brought much contention between Barbudans, the investors, state agencies and the central government, with Cabinet taking a decision on February 26, for all major controversies facing any project to first come to it before any official makes his/her findings public.