EDITORIAL: How many sides to this story?

Have you ever noticed how so many things in Antigua and Barbuda are complicated and leave more questions than they provide answers?  Take the recent confrontation between the folks in Barbuda and members of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. How did we go from zero to ‘war’ in such a short period of time?

According to reports, a contingent of police arrived in Barbuda and demanded the keys to the fisheries complex in Codrington.  They were confronted by a group of Barbudans and the request was denied.  That automatically raised the question as to why choose a Sunday to exercise this task? The police will probably reply that they expected a confrontation so they chose the least busy day, while those on the other side would say the same thing.  From their point of view, the police deliberately chose Sunday because they know a lot of Barbudans would be off the island and they were hoping that they could swoop in on a docile day,  ‘a Christian day of rest,’ to do what they had to do.  Considering that there is probably little disagreement regarding the reasons for selecting a Sunday, let’s move on, shall we?

Our main question is: who or what is the genesis of this move by the police?  According to the Member of Parliament for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, the police officer(s) on the scene indicated that the directive came from Cabinet.  If true, that would open a can of worms because it would indicate that the line indicating the separation of powers in our democracy has been erased.  However, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has made it clear that neither he nor Cabinet instigated the actions, and he points towards the Acting Commissioner of Police, Atlee Rodney.

If Rodney did instigate the action, what was the motive behind it?  According to Walker, the Barbuda Council had given the police notice to vacate the premises some two months ago and they were in agreement.  They were quite understanding of the need for the complex for the upcoming lobster season.  In case you did not know, the fisheries complex has been serving as accommodation for police officers in Barbuda since Hurricane Irma last year.  So, if Walker is accurate in his representation of the communication between the police and the Barbuda Council, why is there a change now, and why the show of force? 

The ownership of the complex is driving the standoff.  According to Walker, the fisheries complex was a gift to the people of Barbuda from the government of Japan.  He is adamant that if the central government gave the police any instructions regarding the keys, then they did so under a false premise because, according to him, the central government “has no authority over this building.”  That however, may not be the case.  We stand to be corrected, but we researched the matter and we cannot find any evidence that the Japanese government gifted the complex to the Barbuda Council. 

From our research, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), through grant aid, funded the construction of the “Artisanal Fisheries Facilities in Barbuda Island.”  It was built on one of two locations identified as sites for fisheries complexes as part of a 2001 “Basic Design Study on the Project for Construction of Fisheries Development Center in Antigua and Barbuda.”  The two locations were the Point Wharf area in Antigua, and the Codrington area in Barbuda.

Maybe it is that the Barbuda Council is looking towards the Barbuda Local Government Act that gives them the power to administer fisheries on the island.  The Act specifically states in section 4(c) that it shall be the duty of the Council to administer fisheries.  That certainly seems to be borne out in a not-so-flattering external evaluation report issued in 2014 which stated that “the management of the facilities under this project was supposed to be undertaken by the fisheries office of the Barbuda Council.”  

You can see where this causes a bit of a conundrum.  On the one hand you

have a situation where evidence suggests that the fisheries complex is a government-to-government gift and not a government-to-council gift, so ownership seems to rest in the hands of the central government.  However, on the other hand, the Barbuda Council, by law, is responsible for the administration of the fisheries complex.  Be that as it may, we do not see the standing of the police in this matter and where they may glean the authority to demand the keys for the complex.  

Barbuda is in a tough spot.  Fishing is more important than it ever has been and the fishing complex is at the centre of that universe.  It is necessary to process the lobster and fish through the facility in order to meet standards to export to world markets, so they may not be able to accommodate the police who are there to help with law and order.  At the same time, Barbuda is a small place and certainly there is no need for animosity and confrontation when we presume that everyone is working towards the same goals.  That, of course, is an assumption, and like we stated above, we are subject to correction.

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