Congratulations to Sir Lester Bird for being a voice of reason in a sea of restless discontent. Like us, the former prime minister has called for warring factions to put down their political swords and talk like civil human beings. We do hope that his voice ”crying in the wilderness,” so to speak, is heard above the cacophony of political babble and the ever-present ‘sound and fury.’
For a while, we thought that everyone in politics had abandoned diplomacy and resorted to finger-pointing and the courts to settle even the most benign disagreements. The rhetoric from both sides reached such a fevered pitch that each regularly dismissed the other before they even attempted to hear what was being said. This lack of communication has made a bad situation worse, and the trust between the parties has reached an all time low, if not completely evaporated.
Then, along comes the emeritus leader of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party who provides some of that special advice that he has been tapped to provide; not just to the party, but to the nation. Going against the current divisive grain that is ubiquitous in today’s politics, he has called for the parliamentary representative of Barbuda, Trevor Walker, to sit down with investors and the prime minister and come to terms.
In particular, he singled out Robert De Niro as someone whom he believes is reasonable, or as he put it, ”not a person who is not willing to sit down and talk.” Sir Lester is promoting the beginning of reasonable discussions and negotiations, saying, “If you think it’s too much land, then you need to sit down and talk to them.” Amen to that!
We have made the point many times before that a bit of diplomacy is what is needed to move forward, and have even suggested the use of a moderator. We would now like to suggest that if Sir Lester is up to it, he should take on that role or help guide the parties to a resolution. As he pointed out, there will always be contention when it comes to development, but it can result in a win-win situation. Maybe if Robert De Niro had a chance to have a face-to-face meeting to hear Barbudans’ concerns directly, without any political filters, he could get a better understanding and maybe even develop a better plan than what he current has in mind.
Ever the politician, Sir Lester walked back the clock to remind everyone that the K Club resort caused its fair share of contention when it was proposed, but in the end, the project turned out to be one of the most famous resorts in the twin-island state, hosting dignitaries and celebrities. To drive home his point, he recalled having lunch at the resort with Princess Diana and her sons while he was prime minister. We would like to point out to all involved that that is how it is done. Make things relatable to people and show that with compromise on both sides, positive benefits can accrue.
Sir Lester’s call for calm and rational thought comes at a key time. The relationship between the leadership in Barbuda and the central government is extremely strained; some will say, “broken.” But it is at times like this that leaders step forward to listen, empathise and craft a way forward that is mutually beneficial to all. The former PM has certainly stepped forward to have his voice heard, we only hope that it is loud enough.
The crazy thing about all of this is that everyone seems to agree, at a base level, that something needs to be done to ensure greater economic stability in Barbuda. We have not heard anyone disagree that some level of development is necessary, so the problems appear to be in the categories of how much and how it is to be done?
Let’s examine the latest salvo in the war for Barbuda. There is an application for leave for judicial review of the airport construction, and it is hinged on the alleged failure of multiple departments of government to adhere to the rules and regulations set out in the laws of our land, including a failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment, failure to receive the approval of the Barbuda Council for the proposed plans and inadequate submission of proposed plans; which begs the question: is the airport development unwanted? If the alleged failures and deficiencies did not exist, would there be any objections to the airport construction?
That is a critical question because it will determine whether there is a desire for development or not. Are those pursuing the judicial review desirous of an airport if the proper processes were completed, or do they simply not want an airport? Or, is it a case of they want an airport, but not the one proposed or in the area proposed? This is what face-to-face meetings will determine. After the fundamental question of “Do you want an airport or not?” is answered, you will know where to take the discussion next.
Of course, the question requires a simple yes or no answer. If the answer is yes, then take steps to clear the alleged procedural missteps and move on. If the answer is no, then it is incumbent on those objecting to the development to provide alternatives that will result in the goal of economic stability in Barbuda. Overly simplified? Yes! But it is not too far from what happens in frank and open discussions, and that is what is sorely needed in these types of situations.
With all the bad blood around the place, we eagerly await the response to Sir Lester’s call. Will his advice be heeded or will the status quo remain?
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