Editorial: Let the lawyering begin!

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Back when there was just talk of freehold being introduced on our sister island, Barbuda, we raised the issue of repercussions. We ended that piece by stating, “The Government may have the law and the land on its side, but there may be repercussions that Antiguans and Barbudans find are not to their liking. Our advice? Look before you leap!” We are unsure if anyone heard our words of advice, because we ended up with a bit of a mess on our hands with the recently passed Barbuda Land (Amendment) Bill 2017.
The concept of a unitary state having two different land ownership models was always going to be a contentious issue, and many people advised against forcing through any legislation that did not adequately contemplate and address the obvious repercussions. Against this solid advice, an extremely flawed bit of legislation was passed, and we suspect that this will be the beginning of a legal storm. We are not lawyers, so we will turn to the Attorney General (AG), Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin for his assessment of the bill. According to the AG, the bill is “discriminatory” and “illegal.”
Strong condemnation for a bill that he threw his support behind. He added, “… I want the whole world to hear me say this because I’m a lawyer first and foremost. I have concerns about the land in Barbuda being distributed to Barbudans only.” And what are those concerns? Well, let’s go back to the AG. He said, “Any Antiguan can challenge this law and succeed, because Antigua and Barbuda is a unitary state.” And there you have it. The law is “discriminatory,” “illegal” and can be successfully challenged. So says the chief legal advisor to the government.
Sounds like a great law? Obviously, the first questions is: how can the attorney general back a law that he so heavily criticized? Next, how can a government pass a law that its own attorney general deems to be “discriminatory,” “illegal” and easily challenged? If you wanted to allay fears that this is all related to a land grab, then this is not the way to do it.
Well, the conspiracy theorists have wasted no time in pointing to Paradise Found and the agreement between the company and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda (GOAB) as the clearest evidence of a land grab. In that agreement, it states, “lf during the term of the New Lease freehold title is available in Barbuda, GOAB agrees to facilitate the immediate conversion of the leasehold land under the New Lease to freehold title. The U.S. $1M sum referred to in paragraph 1.2.6 above shall be applied in full as the complete cost of converting the leasehold interest to freehold title.” For reference, that is clause 1.2.7, and it is not part of the Act but included in the agreement.
Considering all that the AG had to say about the likelihood of successful challenging the “Barbuda only” aspect of the controversial bill, the conspiracy theorists have deduced that the Paradise Found principals are now clinking champagne glasses as they celebrate the future ownership of “All those parcels of land consisting of the former lands held by Dream Company Limited (K Club), being 251 acres, and the lease of lands adjacent thereto, being Crown lease of 140 acres, and any lands leased in Barbuda by Paradise Found in the future for the Project with the approval of the Council.” (As per the Paradise Found (Project) Act, 2015).
They are also asking the very question that we asked. Do similar clauses exist in the leases held for other properties like the Dulcina, Beach House, Peace Love & Happiness, etc.? We note for the record that the Dulcina property is now leased to Purcell Bird and his daughter, Maria Bird-Browne. And in case you are wondering if that is the same Maria BirdBrowne who is the PM’s wife and set to contest the Rural East seat, you are correct. So now the stage is set. Will the Senate reject the bill and send it back to the Lower House for further amendments, or will it get the usual rubber stamp? We predict the latter, but who knows? There might be a few in the Senate who might stand up and show some backbone. They could demand that the flaws be addressed.
They could demand that the Lower House be more responsible in the quality of legislation that is passed to them for consideration. Or, they could simply say that there is no use in passing a law that can be easily and successfully challenged. They could, but does anyone care. Will they show more intestinal fortitude than our attorney general and decide not to follow the prime minister’s lead on this issue? The conspiracy theorists are more convinced than ever that this is a welldesigned land grab and that large tracts of extremely valuable land will be converted to freehold for relatively small compensation.
They are convinced that the law is deliberately flawed to allow the politicians to attempt to use the courts as cover when the challenges are launched and are ultimately successful, as predicted by the AG. We sure hope not because a good bit of paradise will truly be lost forever

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