By Makeida Antonio
The Attorney General has sought to address the stance taken by Barbudans that the fight for land rights will prevail despite the recent ruling by the country’s final court of appeal.
On June 13, the Privy Council dismissed an appeal of the Paradise Found Act (2015) made by Barbuda’s Member of Parliament, Trevor Walker and Barbuda Council Chairman Mackenzie Frank over what they believe is a circumvention of traditional communal land rights in favour of development on the island.
However, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin remarked that “the matter has now been settled” and reminded residents of the Barbuda Land Act, which states that no person shall acquire the ownership of Crown land in Barbuda without prescription.
“If a person in Antigua is occupying private land without the permission, consent or license of the owner for 20 years, paying taxes, cleaning the land, having ownership over that land, then after 20 years, he can apply for the land by prescription. But that cannot happen in Barbuda as here in Antigua because one cannot claim land by prescription against the Crown,” Benjamin said over the weekend.
He then called on MP Walker and Barbudans in general to respect the ruling from the final appellate court and warned that legal penalties will result from “disruptive” residents on the sister isle.
“Trevor Walker, you know you told me in Parliament, and we have it in Hansard, that you said you would have abided by the ruling of the Privy Council. They have ruled, Trevor. Do the right thing Trevor. Lead the people to the promised land, Trevor, like Moses did and those after him. Stop fooling the people.”
Following the ruling, Walker pledged on Observer AM that Barbudans are not going to “play dead” and assured that his constituents will not pretend that nothing happened before the ruling.
“We cannot throw away our history. We cannot throw away the way we have survived, and no reasonable government, no reasonable institution locally, regionally and internationally, would think that all of a sudden, things have changed in Barbuda,” Walker said.
Nonetheless, last week’s Cabinet notes indicated that Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s preference is to rebuild unity between Antigua and Barbuda and urged residents on both islands to resist engaging in “triumphalism”.
Cabinet also noted that plans are in the pipeline to visit Barbuda to hold town hall meetings and other business on the sister isle by the Parliamentary Secretary of Barbuda Affairs.