EDITORIALS: Between a rock and a hard place

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In a recent post-cabinet press briefing, Minister of Information Melford Nicholas, when talking about the cleanup efforts in Barbuda, reflected on the possibility of the government intervening in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts as it relates to private property. The minister indicated that he did not think that the situation had progressed to the point where a decision was imminent but also made it clear that the issue was one that needed to be given consideration.
Minister Nicholas did a good job of explaining the position that the government finds itself in as it relates to Barbuda and the Barbudan people. He said, “… you may well find that the government makes an intervention and actually puts resources available – at the cost of the government – to commence the reconstruction effort.” Already knowing the question from Antiguans, in response to any government-sponsored rebuilding effort, he quickly posed it and then attempted to give government’s perspective. The obvious question, and one already on the street, is: “If my house got damaged in a hurricane, would the government come to my assistance and repair my home?”
The minister got to the crux of the matter by explaining the situation in this way: “The question is, which cost does the government continue to pay? Do we pay for the cost of accommodating Barbudans, in the manner that we have had to – which is our obligation and responsibility – or do we initiate a process to ensure that we can create the arrangements to accelerate the resumption of habitation in Barbuda?”
That is a tough question, but one that we all should ponder. At some point, we will arrive at the tipping point where the long-term cost of housing will outweigh the long-term cost of rebuilding. And the responsible thing for the government to do is to spend the least amount of the taxpayers’ limited dollars in addressing the Barbuda situation while maintaining a caring approach to the crisis.
There are other questions and issues that arise that leave both the government and the Barbudan people caught between a rock and a hard place. If the government intervenes, they will dictate what happens in the rebuilding. By inaction, Barbudans will forfeit their rights to personalisation. Essentially, they will get what they get and will have few shoulders to cry on if they want to complain that it is not to their liking.
And if we were to reach that point, it will become a no-win situation. The rebuild will become a divisive political football with accusations of all types being thrown around irresponsibly while everyone loses track of why and how we got to that point.
Obviously, the best scenario for everyone is for the people of Barbuda to return home and start the clean-up and rebuilding process with the assistance of government. The problem is, that is not happening (for a variety of reasons too lengthy to examine here). And if the current slow pace of engagement continues, the government’s hand will be forced.
None of this will make for pleasant conversation, but it is a conversation that is necessary and one which we should have, sooner, rather than later. We, as a nation, cannot continue with what obtains today. We must figure out the short, medium and long-term solutions for Barbuda, and Barbudans need to step-up and drive that conversation.
It will be easy to criticise the government when the decision is taken, but let us all be realists and recognise that a decision will have to be made one way or another. As Minister Nicholas put it, “it is a choice of spending it there or here.” In our minds, spending it here, on indefinite housing, is not a good plan, and we will say, up-front, that we will not be criticising the government if they are eventually pushed into making the hard decision of intervention.
We recognise that some will criticise us for taking that stance, but it is simply a reflection of the reality of where we are and where we could, potentially, be going. Sure, people will misinterpret our stance and claim that we are advocating for Barbudans to sit back and relax while everyone else shoulders the responsibility for rebuilding their properties, but we do not think that it is in the best interest of Barbudans to allow things to go that route.
Losing control of how their future unfolds is not in Barbudans’ interest. Certainly, it is not for the ones who intend to return. 
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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