EDITORIAL: Now what?

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The candidate for the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), Calsey Beazer, won a convincing victory over the runner-up challenger from the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), Ricardo Nedd. The final tally was 531 for Beazer and 303 for Nedd.  The Go Green for Life (GGL) candidate, Primrose Thomas, garnered eight votes.
The win has delivered a majority of seats on the Barbuda Council to the BPM and has reflected a result that many had predicted. Any astute politician or casual observer will recognise that the Barbuda people are not happy with what is going-on in their corner of our bit of paradise and they want change.  
We know how much you love number crunching, so let’s get started. In the past general election, 1021 votes were cast out of a total of 1065 registered voters. That ABLP got 429 (42 percent) and the BPM got 558 (55 percent). In this by-election, the number of registered voters increased to 1166 and there were 845 votes cast. The turnout was down from 87.64 percent in the general election to 72.4 percent. The ABLP’s support dropped to 35.8 percent and the BPM rose to 62.8 percent.
Of course, there were differences that must be taken into account. The first and most obvious one that comes to mind is the change of location. The polling station for Barbuda was relocated to Antigua for the general election for a long list of reasons; chief among them were the arguments that since the majority of Barbudans were still resident in Antigua and the infrastructure was so poor, the logical choice was Antigua. Five weeks later and the
Barbuda election was, by most accounts, a pretty smooth affair. Some transportation issues were reported but there was nothing that indicated that the process and facilities could not have hosted the general elections. But that is not what we are here to discuss, so let’s move on.
We will leave the statistical analysis to you and the political pundits. Our big question is: now what?  All the signs point to a battle for the future of Barbuda lands. Immediately following her victory, Calsey Beazer stated, “Barbudans are ready to stand together for one purpose and that is for the betterment of Barbuda,” adding that her first task was to get the council going while stating, “we definitely need to come together as Barbudans and decide how we are going to move forward in regards to the situation with our land.” Now, those are not exactly fighting words but the shift away from the ABLP clearly demonstrates a rejection of the party’s plans for the lands in Barbuda. 
After pandering to the Barbudans with a self-described unconstitutional act, the prime minister has seemingly taken-off the gloves and is now force-feeding the Barbudans his and his party’s vision for the future of the land in Barbuda. Gone will be the custom of communal land ownership and leases. It will be replaced with freehold, with foreign investors and a few locals securing large swaths of Barbuda’s most valuable land for extremely ‘affordable’ rates.  Who doesn’t want pristine beach front land on the cheap?
In the case of Robert DeNiro’s Paradise Found project, the lease for over one hundred acres will be replaced with a freehold title for the additional payment of just U.S. $1 million.  In clause 1.2.7 of the Paradise Found 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 we note that this is part of the agreement and not included in the Act, so we need some clarification. As well, the performance clause of the Paradise Found (Project) Act of 2015 states, “The Crown lease of 140 acres will revert to the Crown if construction of the Resort is not started within 36 months from the beginning of the lease term.” So if the lease turns to freehold after payment, then how can the performance clause be enforced? You see why transparency is so important (and an explanation)? 
Speaking of transparency, conversion and performance details of other leases remain unknown. Two that come to mind are the John Paul DeJoria-backed Peace, Love and Happiness project and the Bird-backed Dulcina Hotel. In the latter case, that lease involves the wife of the prime minister and the current minister of lands, Maria Bird-Browne. In the interest of transparency and accountability, details of all land conversion/sales should be made public. If not, the perception of this all being a ‘land grab’ will never go away.
 As the results of the by-election were announced, cheers and applause greeted the announcement that Beazer had won. Her pronouncement that the  BPM will continue its efforts to challenge any change of the law was an obvious line in the sand with most of the Barbudans on one side and the central government on the other; with the advantage seemingly with the central government. What happens next is key. Both sides claim to be working in the best interest of Barbuda and Barbudans but they have fundamental difference in their approaches. Will diplomacy win over destructive rhetoric or will the divisiveness continue down a path that is not in the best interest of anyone?
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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