By Elesha George
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has announced his government’s intention to make the island of Barbuda a “Jumby Bay on steroids”.
Jumby Bay is a 300-acre private, luxury island two miles off the coast of Antigua. It has suites, villas and private residences, owned and leased by the very wealthy. In stark contrast, Barbuda has remained relatively untouched for nearly three centuries, with its residents practicing communal land ownership.
Prime Minister Browne stated his intention to transform the sister island during the debate on Friday to amend the Registered Land Act. Browne emphasised his vision for transforming Barbuda into a high-end luxury destination that would rival the exclusivity and allure of Jumby Bay.
The proposed plan aims to attract affluent travellers and investors to the island, thereby driving economic growth and creating employment opportunities for the local population.
“The earnings for those hotels that we’ll be attracting will be significantly greater than all the other hotels in Antigua and perhaps only second to Jumby Bay,” he said.
But unlike other development models, he said his government will reject the model of all-inclusive hotels and instead develop the sister island into a high-end community.
“What we’ve decided is that Barbuda should be positioned as a low density, green and organic island,” he explained.
Browne anticipates that the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) project which has already attracted $2 billion in investment, for example, will contribute significantly more in taxes than Jumby Bay.
The Prime Minister insisted that the changes are meant to empower Barbudans with land ownership.
“We’re making it abundantly clear to all citizens, all residents, that we have a single registered land act that will govern how we dispose, how we lease, how we deal with land in Antigua and Barbuda.
“These nonsensical arguments about ownership and ownership in common and so on, they need to stop it,” he added.
Members of Parliament were engaged in intense debate over the proposed bill that seeks to incorporate Barbuda into the country’s land registry. If passed, this would mark the first step towards establishing an official registry on the island, mirroring the existing system in Antigua.
The proposed changes in the bill aim to ensure that landowners in Barbuda have the opportunity to develop their properties and provide a legal framework to facilitate smooth land transactions.
However, not everyone is on board with this transformation. Barbuda MP Trevor Walker opposed the amendments. He contends that the Registered Land Act is based on the cadastral survey conducted in 1976 in Antigua and, as such, it cannot be directly applied to Barbuda as the island was not part of the survey at that time.Top of Form
“”Crown land so you think you can do as you like
“Crown land, so you think you can do as you like; you can’t do what you like with Barbuda. We’ve been living in Barbuda for over 300 years a particular way; you can’t stop that,” Walker said.
Despite the government’s assurances, Walker insists that the government is attempting to impose its will on the people of Barbuda by making this amendment.
He highlighted the number of government-sanctioned projects that are already putting Barbuda’s ecosystem at risk.
“I could see if the Barbudans are saying we’re not living well so we need title to our land, we need to go to university so we need to be able to access loans. None of us are saying that but yet still there is this persistent effort to alienate land, to sell land, so they can do as they like with Barbuda land,” he said.
Despite the concerns Browne, who defended the amendment, noted that Antigua and Barbuda has a competitive advantage in the tourism industry that Barbuda will play an integral role in securing in the future.
Under the proposed amendment, Barbudans will have the option to claim the land they currently occupy or purchase it at a symbolic price of $1. Additionally, the government will consider selling up to one acre of land to each Barbudan adult for the same token price.
Browne said the survey of Barbuda is complete and Deputy Governor General Sir Clare Roberts will adjudicate over the land registry process in Barbuda once the law has been passed and gazetted.
If the bill to amend the Registered Land Act is passed, it is likely to have a profound impact on the island’s future and the way land ownership and development are managed.