Editorial: Open sesame

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We are not sure if it is just us, but is “something stinking in the state of Denmark?” We are referring to the recent giddy pronouncement by our good prime minister that in sailing around the island while showing the prime parcels of real estate to some investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he was quite taken by this fair nation of ours – “where land and sea make beauty!”  In his own words, “We are somewhere around . . .we’re going around right over to Barnacle Point  . . . we are doing a circumnavigation looking at a few properties . . . we have some investors here out of the UAE . . .ah, . . very capable individuals, . . . very wealthy individuals who are looking at a few properties, and I am pretty confident that we have a deal. I am not at liberty to announce anything at this point; they should be back here in about thirty days . . . and I believe that at that point we should be able announce a major resort deal. . . . and I want to tell you that if you think that Antigua is beautiful by land, you need to see Antigua by sea . . ah mean it is a most beautiful, a most gorgeous island, it is easily the most gorgeous island for tourism in the world . . .!” No argument from us here at Observer media on that score. After all, we have oft-referred to our fair land as “Our bit of paradise” – a patrimony that we ought to cherish – a blessed land over which we ought to be good stewards. 
Of course, we were half-expecting to hear the good prime minister say that it gave him pause, a prick of the conscience, if you will, that he, the keeper of the Sir Papa V.C. flame, so to speak, was willy-nilly selling or leasing the lands that Sir V.C. expended so much blood, sweat and treasure to purchase. Indeed, it almost appeared to us that the good PM could barely contain his delight as he waxed rhapsodic that the UAE people will determine their “ideal” spot and many more “millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires” will soon be moving into luxury tents in Barbuda and choosing their real estate spots as part of the “Discovery Bay” project. Cue the clip of hands rubbing together with glee.
To be fair, there is a need for development in Barbuda, and the PM pointed out that some 100 Barbudans are now working on the Discovery Bay project, and in a few short months, some 700 Barbudans will be employed by the aforementioned wealthy who will be flying in on their private jets.  The PM was also careful to point out that this massive employment opportunity will significantly reduce the dependency on the Barbuda Council for employment and reduce the financial strain on the central government. Of course, this explains the urgency for the completion of the international airport project in Barbuda. It does not explain why everything else seemed to have been neglected, or on a go-slow on the sister-isle. On second thoughts, maybe the needs of the millionaires and billionaires were given the utmost priority at the expense of returning the lives of Barbudans to some semblance of normalcy. We could be wrong, but we believe that history will not be kind to those charged with the reconstruction effort in Barbuda. We believe that history will record that they were derelict in that solemn responsibility.
Which brings us back to our ambivalence and unease. Development in Antigua and Barbuda is necessary, but at what cost? Where do we draw the line? How do we strike that delicate balance between the desires of the investor and the needs of the native people – good wages, access to the beaches and so on and so forth? These are vexing questions with which most tourism economies have had to contend. How do we prevent our bit of paradise from becoming a free-for-all, an open sesame for the rich? How do we safeguard the value of our passports and the good name of Antigua and Barbuda? How do we prevent tourism and the CIP product from becoming “whorism” – open to all comers? Seems, eternal vigilance must be the watchword! And yes, we Antiguans and Barbudans must do our bit to ensure that the increasingly small areas of our fair land that we control remain “A most beautiful, a most gorgeous island!”

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