EDITORIAL: The first outreach

Considering everything going on in our sister-isle Barbuda, including the animosity between the central government and the Barbuda Council, it was refreshing to hear a call for unity. That call came from newly appointed Barbuda Council Secretary Paul Nedd, who is seeking to get all stakeholders to unite in order to get Barbuda back on its feet. This is a pleasant departure from the current rhetoric and name calling, so we hope that it represents the icebreaker that is necessary for dialogue to start.

We are unsure why Nedd made specific mention of returning things to what they were prior to the passage of Hurricane Irma, because we are of the opinion that the relationship between the parties must evolve much further than where they were in September 2017.  The fact is Barbuda was nowhere near a sustainable economy back then. The island was not even close to or on a meaningful trajectory. The discord may not have been as evident as it is today but the conflict was there. 

It could be that the newly appointed secretary is simply longing for the days pre-Irma when there was a functioning school, hospital and other key amenities and he would be happy to have what was there, in comparison to what is there now. That said, we hope that he is looking beyond the “normalcy” in September 2017 and can be the lightning rod that will result in honest and meaningful dialogue. As we have said many times before, on many topics, if you do not have a plan, then you are planning to fail. And right now, we just don’t see a mutually agreed upon plan for the future of Barbuda.

Sometimes, sheer necessity is the driving force that brings warring sides to the negotiating table, and it seems that necessities on both sides may drive unwilling parties to begin a dialogue.  On the central government’s side, there is a need to progress with the plans that they have, before investors’ patience wanes.  On the Council’s side, there is a need for revenue and a return to a better way of life.

It is obviously a grim situation in Barbuda. One year after Hurricane Irma devastated the island, Nedd gives a peek into what pertains on the island. Since few Antiguans visit the sister isle, it is worth listening to what he had to say about the current state of affairs.  According to Nedd, there are still many homes in dire need of repair work or to be rebuilt entirely, electricity and running water have not been fully restored, the primary school is in a temporary place. The police station and the post office and electoral office are non-functional. It is not a pretty picture.

Be that as it may, everything described above requires money to fix and that is the Achilles heel of the Barbuda people – always has been and always will be until an economic plan for the future is decided and enacted. As Nedd reports, the council’s revenue machinery is almost nonexistent. He said that the hotel industry is in disarray due to Irma and that has negatively affected the tax collection of the council. Add to that the severely diminished sand mining revenue, which is at minimal levels, and you can see the plight that Barbuda is in. There are no current revenue streams and no future revenue streams on the horizon. The island relies nearly completely on the central government for its survival.

This may seem to give the government the upper hand, but Barbudans are a tough, determined, and, some would say, stubborn lot, so suffering can never be considered an advantage.  So, all things considered, the island needs a plan and as Nedd has said, it needs everyone at the table to formulate that plan and execute the actions necessary to allow Barbuda to progress. The sticking point has always been the path to that win-win situation.  The sides claim that they cannot see eye-to-eye, but without genuine attempts to listen to one another, without public rancor and dramatic walkouts, no one really knows.  The PM and his administration say that the Barbudans are unreasonable and not worth a sit-down, and the Barbudans say that the central government is seeking to undo their way of life and take advantage. With such diametrically opposed views, and no middle ground, it is easy to see why we are stuck in this spin cycle for so long.  

That cycle will continue until people step forward with an open mind and a willingness to move past the bad blood that has brought us to this point.  Actions speak louder than words, but with Nedd’s call for unity, we at least have a starting point to begin communication, something that is sadly lacking in this situation.  All we need now is for someone on the other side to give a positive response and, hopefully, we can move this seemingly immovable object called an Antigua-Barbuda relationship forward.

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