Every time we see unnecessary public political spats, we shake our heads. We did it when the government was at war with Butch Stewart and his Sandals operations and we do it now with the Barbuda situation. In both cases, the international perception is far from good and no matter who eventually ‘wins’ damage is done to both sides and the country as a whole.
Not too long ago, we lamented the fact that there seems to be little desire by either side to enter private discussions to get to common ground. The government has made it clear that meeting with the Barbudan representative is too combative and unproductive and the Barbudans have dismissed the government as uncaring, land grabbers not worthy of a sit-down. In the wider world of politics and diplomacy, these excuses do not pass the test. Real wars have been terminated because of the willingness of two warring factions to sit across a table from one another and work things out. Imagine that, people who are literally killing each other can put aside differences long enough to hold a civil conversation but the government and Barbudan representatives cannot.
The latest salvoes in the public war of words relate to an injunction filed by concerned Barbudans over the airport construction. Two Barbudans, John Mussington and Jacklyn Frank, filed an application for leave for judicial review of the government’s decision to construct an airport in Barbuda. They are hoping that the injunction will address what is being described as failures by the central government to meet critical requirements under the Physical Planning Act 2003.
The duo claims to represent Barbudans who are affected by and opposed to the “massive destruction” of forests, wildlife and ecosystems allegedly associated with the construction of the airport. They have alleged that there has been a multi-department failure to comply with regulations, including failure to complete required environmental impact assessments, incomplete submission of proposed plans, failure to receive Barbuda Council approval of proposed plans, and instances where the government ignored its own reports of risk to the island.
In response, Prime Minister, Gaston Browne has dismissed the action as just more of the same from the ‘obstructionist’ Barbudans. He said that the latest move is just part of the “modus operandi” of the group which wishes to hinder the progress of the island and government’s plans. Further, he proclaimed that if that is their wish, then he would not prevent them from hampering their growth.
Both sides seem to be playing to the public and in this round, we believe the PM has won. The injunction seems to play into his storyline that there is a group of Barbudans who do not want any development on the island and will take any means to stymie the efforts of the administration to bring about change and a better life in Barbuda. With the airport far along in construction, people will ask what is the intent of the injunction? The “massive destruction” would have already been done so is the group really just trying to stymie progress?
That said, the allegations outlined in the application to the court would be simple enough to prove or disprove, so depending on the facts, the court will determine the legal winner; especially since many of the questions are yes or no answers. Was an environmental impact study done? Were complete submissions made? Etc., etc.
This brings us back to our original point. Why can’t both sides put down their daggers and sit around a table to find a solution? The prime minister cannot simply dismiss the aggrieved Barbudans and at the same time, the Barbudans cannot refuse to meet because they believe that they already know the answers that they will receive. Why cannot civility and diplomacy rule the day? The last time we discussed this topic we suggested that the parties seek a mediator to facilitate a meeting. We said, “Maybe the parties should relax their guard a bit and enter a mediation session to lay their cards on the table and have a third party help guide them to a solution.” We continue to believe that a solution will only materialise if the parties realise that a solution is not possible without communication and compromise and the introduction of a mediator.
There is a cadre of extremely skilled mediators in Antigua and Barbuda who can assist and that home grown skill is best positioned to assist in finding a resolution to all of this bad blood. If both sides are really committed to a better Barbuda, as they claim, then common ground is not too far away. We only hope that everyone will realise and acknowledge that there is an “and’ between Antigua and Barbuda and do the right thing.