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Thursday, 02 December, 2021
HomeEditorialsDon’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach

Don’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach

Compulsory acquisition. Two words that we dislike. Always have and, likely, always will. We just cannot bring our minds to accept that our property can be acquired without our permission and sold or given to someone else. We know that the whole concept has been given the blessing of the Law Lords at the Privy Council but we still do not like it. 
Don’t get us wrong, we understand the whole concept of eminent domain in the true sense but depriving one private individual of property and turning it over to another private individual for their benefit does not seem to fit the intent of the entire concept. Some perspective is necessary to understand the topic so let’s first define what eminent domain is all about. 
Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property for public use. The law provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide market value compensation to the owners of the property being compulsorily acquired. The entire thing is covered in Chapter 233 of our laws called The Land Acquisition Act. Section 3 (1) of the act states: “If the Cabinet considers that any land should be acquired for a public purpose, they may, with the approval of the Legislature, cause a declaration to that effect to be made by the Secretary to the Cabinet in the manner provided by this section and the declaration shall be conclusive evidence that the land to which it relates is required for a public purpose.” 
We are sure that you see where our first problem is with this law. How can a simple Cabinet declaration be considered conclusive proof of anything? Don’t worry; we are not going to begin to dissect the law because doing so will be totally unproductive. 
We are, however, going to touch on this issue because it has once again raised its head and plunged Antigua & Barbuda back into the international press in a fairly negative light. Of course, we are referring to the Half Moon Bay (HMB) saga. A saga that started under the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) way back when, continued under the United Progressive Party (UPP) and continues under the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP).  Hard to believe, but true. 
The government is apparently going to be served “shortly” with a “default ruling” by Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for any money still to be paid by the company that bought the HMB property to be “garnished” to the Courts in British Columbia (BC). That is according to attorney-at-law Lincoln Caylor of Bennett Jones LLP, the Toronto law firm representing HMB Holdings.
According to HMB’s Canadian lawyer, the company received about $15 million from the government but decided to file a civil suit on October 25, 2016 when no more money was forthcoming. It has now received a default judgment via an April 7 garnishee order in the amount of CDN $30.2 million. The attorney-at-law said that the Antiguan government did not respond to the civil claim.
Now, we have been vilified by the same government for not turning up to court regarding our utilities matter but there are distinct and significant differences. We already had a commercial agreement in place with APUA; one that was debated and approved by Cabinet. As well, we were assured, verbally, that the filing was not going to be pursued because the agreement was in place. So, for all the red kool-aid drinkers who would like to assert that we do not have the ‘moral authority’, or
any such nonsense, to comment on the matter, put down the kool-aid and look at things a bit more objectively. Now back to the topic at hand.
In response to the news, the Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin has said nothing more than his administration was aware of the ruling and “appropriate action” would be taken to “regularise” the situation.  He offered no excuse as to why there was no representation in this $30 million case. 
If it does nothing else, the lengthy history of this saga, which is over 20 years old, proves that the government should never seek to compulsorily acquire anything without cash in hand or the ability to borrow the funds necessary to pay. And to understand this better, we will let Prime Minister Gaston Browne sum it up for you. In 2015, he made this statement in Parliament as he sought  to explain the financing deal: “You have a debt of Half Moon Bay of US $40-something million. The property at best, you may get about US $20 million; that means, therefore, there is a deficit of over US $20 million, translated into EC, is between EC $50 and $60 million. We don’t have the money to pay them, Sir, so what we plan to do is add another 200 acres of government land to give to the prospective buyer so that we can pay off Ms Querard.”
Let’s put that into perspective. The government got the green light to acquire the property for $26,616,998 but because they did not pay, like you would for anything in the normal world, the interest, etc, caused that amount to balloon. Government then entered into a deal to sell to the Canadian company but had to throw in an additional 200 acres (on top of the original 100 plus acres) to get enough to pay off the HMB shareholders. Some was paid and transferred to the shareholders, but no more after that. Now the shareholders sit with a garnishee order for any future payments while interests and costs pile up. If we had paid when the government acquired, then we would be in a much less sticky situation.
At least the country saved a few dollars on legal costs by not showing up to court. (Yes! We jest.)
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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Dear Friends,

Newsco Limited is pleased to share with you our 40th Anniversary of Independence Magazine.  As we all celebrate this momentous occasion, we hope that you will enjoy the riveting features, which include a unique look at our sister isle of Barbuda, highlights of our important connections with our brothers and sisters in the diaspora and much more.  

Happy Independence!!!