By Shermain Bique-Charles
A tug of war has erupted between central government and the Barbuda Council over whether the sister island has the right to close its borders to boats from Antigua.
The hullabaloo started last week when the government said Barbuda’s borders should be open to pleasure craft travelling between the two islands.
However, in a statement released on Monday, the Council said, pursuant to section 123 of the Constitution, all non-essential movement between Antigua and Barbuda will be restricted, subject to review.
Council members claim the move is to keep Barbudans safe from the coronavirus. The smaller island still has no confirmed cases of Covid-19 and is keen to keep it that way.
But that has ignited a storm of protest from the nation’s Attorney-General Steadroy Benjamin who told Observer the Council had been “ill-informed and ill-advised”.
Benjamin said Antigua and Barbuda is a “unitary” state and “you cannot have a state within a state which is what the Council is trying to uphold at present”.
According to Benjamin, who is also the country’s Legal Affairs Minister, once central government makes a ruling, it must be honoured by all and “Barbuda is no exception”.
He also claimed Barbudans are not mindful of the society and the democratic organisation under which residents operate.
“It’s unfortunate and it is a pity that these issues are raising itself at this time,” he said.
What is comforting, according to Benjamin, is knowing that “very soon” all such matters pertaining to governance of the twin island nation will be resolved.
He was referring to the government’s intention to amend the Local Government Act to strip responsibilities from the Barbuda Council, a decision that Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker has vowed to fight.
Secretary of the Barbuda Council Paul Nedd told Observer he believes the Council is acting legitimately.
“The Barbuda Council is 100 percent responsible for the health of the people and, according to Chapter 18 of the Barbuda Local Government Act, the Council is responsible to protect the health of the people of Barbuda,” he explained.
Nedd said the decision is not political, personal or confrontational but simply “to protect the people against COVID-19”.
Safety, health and security, according to Nedd, is top on the Council’s agenda.