EDITORIAL: Stop!

Barbuda construction projects have experienced two major work stoppages in the last few weeks.  The first stop order came in the form of an injunction issued by High Court Judge, Rosalyn E. Wilkinson, which instructed that all construction on the international airport in Barbuda be stopped immediately.  

The ruling was in favour of John Mussington and Jacklyn Frank, who are acting on behalf of Barbudans affected by the construction and oppose what they say is the massive destruction of forests, wildlife and ecosystems, allegedly, from the construction of the airport.  As well, they claim that there are several failures by the central government to meet critical requirements under the Physical Planning Act 2003, in the development of the airport, and failure to follow proper planning procedures where the government has started or permitted construction.

Judge Wilkinson granted the injunction to Mussington and Frank and essentially issued a stop order over the protestations of the government and its lawyer Dr. David Dorsett of Watt, Dorsett and Company.  The government’s lawyer has stated that the government was denied natural justice, when the judge failed to hear government’s counsel because the government had not filed an affidavit. He also will appeal the injunction because it is his opinion that the judge failed to have regard for the relevant provisions of the Physical Planning Act which allows planning permission to be given after construction has started and there was no consideration given to the public interest.  As well, he states that  there was no inquiry into the ability of the Barbudans to satisfy an undertaking in damages. 

All of this sounds like good money for lawyers and time wasted in the courts when it has already been said that everyone wants the airport.  But that has already been covered so let’s move on to the other agreed position that everyone wants in Barbuda … a school.  Interestingly enough, this issue is meeting a similar fate.

Recently, it was reported by the Chairman of the Barbuda Council, Wade Burton, that the Development Control Authority (DCA), issued a stop order on the construction which was taking place at the Holy Trinity School in Barbuda.  Of course, there is a feeling that the stop order is politically motivated and some believe it is in retaliation to the airport injunction but the long and short of it, the DCA has said “Stop!”

As with a lot of things that happen in Antigua and Barbuda, this is turning into a “he said, she said” situation.  On one side, the government’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst, has said that Cabinet had been informed that the strength of the walls of the school building had been compromised when the roof of the building (that is being repaired) was blown away by Hurricane Irma last year. He indicated that the roof replacement would not alleviate the structural integrity issues and it will still be unsafe for occupancy.  In response, Burton has said that the DCA had visited the construction site and given an all clear for the project. So which is it?  “Structurally sound” or “unsafe” for rebuilding and occupation? Maybe the DCA can clear this up for everyone.

From our perspective, we are bewildered by what is going on in Barbuda.  Everyone claims to want the same thing but still can’t seem to get on the same page.  One year on from superstorm Hurricane Irma, and education still has not been addressed.  How is that possible?  Along with health and safety, education must be on the priority list for attention.  How can families with school-aged children return to the island if the school is not fit for occupancy?

Burton is saying that he was not sure just how important the central government views the rebuilding of the school for the upcoming academic year but he states, “Barbudans consider it vital to have the school ready.”  We have no doubt that the government’s position will be that they view it is vital as well, but consider safety to be paramount and safety trumps all.

You see how perplexing this situation is?  The Council and the central government will claim that they both want a safe school for Barbudans but for one reason or another, they cannot agree on a way forward; almost one year after the devastation.  How is this possible?  Are the sides so far apart that they cannot find common ground for the sake of the children? 

These are just two issues in a broader struggle between the various factions in Barbuda and the central government.  The maddening thing in all of this crazy tribal politics is, they all share a common set of goals but cannot agree on the road to get there.  Maybe it is time for a different set of negotiators to take their seats at the table because the current crop is not getting the job done. We suggest that they cease and desist! In other words, STOP the nonsense!

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