Expert calls for fair approach to Barbuda land sales, as public weighs in on Privy Council ruling

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Government announced plans in 2017 to provide each Barbudan with official registration of the land they occupy for the nominal fee of one dollar (Photo courtesy Ryan Whisner)
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One urban planning expert believes that detailed discussions should be held regarding government’s offer of registered ownership of land in Barbuda for just EC$1.

Dr Asad Mohammed, who has worked in Antigua and Barbuda in the past, said such discussions would facilitate a greater level of understanding about the process.

He added that while he thinks the offer first made in 2017 is a good one, greater structure is needed.

“We know that there are many people occupying lands in Barbuda right now and what we found with Hurricane Irma is that there is inappropriate land use,” he told Sunday’s Big Issues show.

“So, it would be foolhardy to simply regularise the existing status as it is without thinking through some of the land use and land distribution and urbanisation strategies that are relevant there.

“I am not saying to remove people’s rights of occupation but, in doing so, they should be given the equivalent, and opportunities should be made to rethink some of the settlement and land use patterns in Barbuda,” Mohammed said.

He continued that consideration should also be given to the implications of privatising the land holding and making the land accessible at a reasonable rate for everyone.

“You don’t want to recognise people who are occupying in a way that is predatory; they know that programme is going to come about and then they occupy lands that shouldn’t be occupied.

“What is the period of time of that occupation? What is the type of occupation that is taking place? Is it a good situation? What are the costs of implementing the programme and a range of other things?”

He added, “It is clear the Crown owns the land and it is clear in my opinion that they have not been able to prove good title according to the courts, but there are other sorts of rights in place here that we have to recognise and deal with.”

Five years ago, in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Irma, government announced plans to provide each Barbudan with official registration of the land they occupy for the nominal fee of one dollar.

The conversation has re-emerged with the Privy Council’s recent dismissal of a claim that lands in Barbuda are owned in common.

On June 13, the London-based court dismissed an appeal to the Paradise Found Act (2015) made by Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker and Barbuda Council Chairman Mackenzie Frank over what they believe is a circumvention of traditional communal land rights in favour of development on the island.

Meanwhile, members of the public who called into yesterday’s Observer AM show expressed mixed views on the court ruling.

Some condemned the ABLP administration for their treatment of Barbudans.

They believe that although the Privy Council sided with government, what is legal is not always ethical.

“The Barbuda issue should never have reached the Privy Council,” one said.

“I cannot understand the whole issue, knowing the issue of colonisation and the issue of slavery, that you have a leader that will go to dispossesses people of their land and their traditions.

“It is really a sad day when we have to celebrate King Court and all those people that went before us. It is a betrayal. It is a dark day in Antigua and Barbuda and we should not blame those people at the Privy Council.

“The people that are to be blamed are at the feet of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party and that Cabinet,” the caller chided.

“Barbuda land is for the people born there, not Antiguans. A lot of people don’t know the history of Barbuda and this Prime Minister, this young man, does not know the history; that’s why he is fighting the people over there.

“The Barbudans is the only people that can represent their land,” another said.

Others said the matter should not have been politicised.

One individual said it was only right that the Privy Council sided with the government as the country’s Constitution clearly outlines what shall and shall not be prohibited.

“We have a Constitution; Antigua and Barbuda and Redonda form the territory and state of Antigua and Barbuda.

“It also says – and for me, this is the most critical – the Constitution is supreme law and any law that is in conflict of this Constitution is null and void.

“All I am asking is let us get the proof that the people of Barbuda own the land, other than that if we cannot work together and they want to go on their own, let them go,” the caller concluded.

A few even claimed MP Walker was a hypocrite, pointing out that while he owns land in Antigua, Antiguans have historically not been able to own land in Barbuda.

Walker pledged last week that Barbudans will not “play dead” and will continue to fight for what they consider to be their rights, despite a call from Prime Minister Gaston Browne for residents on both islands to put the matter to rest and unite for the benefit of all.

Attorney General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin has also called on Walker and Barbudans in general to respect the ruling from the country’s final appellate court.

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