Feeding the conspiracy theorists

In recent editorials, we revisited the Asian Village debacle and made a request of the Office of the Prime Minister for a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of Antigua & Barbuda and Yida International Investment Antigua Limited. We did this in the hope that any new agreement with any developers of the former Asian Village lands would be negotiated in the best interest of Antiguan and Barbudans.

Having witnessed the weak negotiations that led to the signing of the agreement with Asian Village Antigua Limited on 18th February, 1997 and which led to the eventual “give-away” of lands to Data Tan, we felt that it was our duty to ring the alarm. We needed to remind the politicians and people in general, that what we have is precious and that we need to get the best deal possible for such valuable and environmentally sensitive lands.

By doing this, we hoped and prayed that we would not have a repeat of the one-sided deal that did nothing but cost this country money, time and eventually our land.

Sadly, it would appear that our efforts were in vain.

OBSERVER media has been able to secure a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement and we are shocked; to put it mildly. It will take us some time to do a full review and a comparison to the original Asian Village agreement but at a first glance, some persons are already proclaiming that this one is worse that the original.

The first thing that struck us as strange is that fact that the agreement is not dated anywhere (at least the copy we have). The document is initialled on every page and it is signed in all the right places by all the right people, but in every place which calls for a date, the date is deliberately omitted.

This oddity begins on the cover page which records the date of the agreement as “Dated June, 2014”. No day of the month is filled in on the cover page but we figured that it was just an omission and surely the date would be included on the signature pages. Not so.

In fact, as part of the agreement, there are two affidavits witnessing the execution of the agreement: one signed by Marian Hesse of B Hesse & Associates and another by Steadroy Benjamin. In both cases, the form makes provision for and requires that the person making the affidavit write their name, the date, etc in front of a Notary Public. In both cases, all information is completed except for the date.

It is more than odd that lawyers, including the attorney general, and the notary public officials would sign affidavits without dating them. Why?

The conspiracy theorists have already begun to propose their theories and naturally the first one surrounds the actual date of signature. The theory being advanced proposes that the document was actually negotiated and signed before the June 12, 2014 election. The theorists continue that the deal was struck in order to secure campaign funding and to show off to the world that the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) had secured a “serious” foreign investor.

“Why else would Yida be so willing to advance the half of a million dollars for the Barbuda payroll?” they ask. “And, have you asked yourself, where did the ABLP get all of that campaign money to plant billboards like trees and the size of houses?” is the question that quickly follows.

If one were to buy into that sort of conspiracy and question the reason for the lack of any dates, then it would be easy to see how the deal is so one-sided. It would stand to reason that the strength in the negotiations, ahead of the election, would lie squarely on the side of the foreign investor. After all, prior to the election, the persons seeking office would need an investor more than an investor would need them. It is the same reason that the electorate can get more duty free, etc, from the politicians in the months leading to the election than at any other time.

Was the deal stuck and signed before the election so that there would be no backing out after? And if that was the case, then will that impact the legality of the agreement in any way? These are just a couple of the many questions that the conspiracy theorists want answered.

All that said, we are not in the conspiracy theory business. We deal in facts. And at this point, we can only report that the copy of the agreement that is in our possession and apparently being widely circulated is signed and witnessed but all dates have been omitted.   We cannot comment on this peculiarity at this time but we can report it as fact.

In the ABLP’s manifesto entitled “Ready to Rebuild Antigua & Barbuda” the ABLP committed itself to restoring accountability so we fully expect that the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, will address the many questions that have arisen since the agreement was revealed.

We realise that some of our readers may be sceptical and think that we are being somewhat naïve, but it is early days yet and we must take the ABLP at their word when they said: “The ABLP will restore accountability that the UPP has scorned; we will improve transparency measures by taking the people into our confidence in the many projects and programmes that we will institute to diversify and enliven the economy, stimulate business, bring investment and create employment.”

In the interest of promoting full transparency, we invite the prime minister to be a guest on the Voice of the People and greet the people and their questions with the transparency that was promised and the transparency that is deserved.

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