There is a lot of talk about Barbuda land. Is it Crown land? Is ownership held in common by the Barbuda people? Can central government exercise control over the land, etc.? And as many questions as there may be, there are more versions to the answers.
All of the questions are in need of greater investigation and proper legal advice (more than what we can muster). But having said that, we have found no documentation of any type or any substantial evidence that Barbuda is not Crown land. In fact, we have found more than one reference to the “myth” of common ownership and several references to the Codrington family being holders of a lease on Barbuda – the payment being one fat sheep per year, if requested.
We have also seen reference to poor performance of the Barbuda estate and the eventual relinquishment of the lease in 1870, at which time the people in Barbuda were said to have become tenants of the Crown. So, at this point, we can only deduce that the Codrington family never possessed a title deed to Barbuda, and, as such, could not have bequeathed it to the people.
Of course, our research resources are limited, and we welcome any documentation or evidence that proves otherwise.
In any case, the practice over the years has been in keeping with the concept that ownership of all Barbuda lands is held in common by all Barbudans and controlled by the Barbuda Council. As such, there are only leases available in Barbuda. Land is not sold.
That having been established, the recent talk of establishing freehold title in Barbuda has a lot of people very nervous. Some people see it as a very sinister plot to acquire or sell land and see that as detrimental to the future of Barbuda. They call it a “land grab,” and they believe that the one-dollar-offer for title is nothing more than a diversion for scalping huge lots of land, and the first thing that they point to is Paradise Found.
If you are not familiar with the Paradise Found agreement, there is a clause that states: “lf during the term of the New Lease freehold title is available in Barbuda, GOAB agrees to facilitate the immediate conversion of the leasehold land under the New Lease to freehold title. The US$1m sum referred to in paragraph 1.2.6 above shall be applied in full as the complete cost of converting the leasehold interest to freehold title.” For reference, that is clause 1.2.7. We note that this is part of the agreement and not included in the Act.
Not being lawyers and not having heard all of the details of the freehold land proposal, it would appear that the Paradise Found principals could score big once freehold is established. And by score big, we mean “All those parcels of land consisting of the former lands held by Dream Company Limited (K Club), being 251 acres, and the lease of lands adjacent thereto, being Crown lease of 140 acres, and any lands leased in Barbuda by Paradise Found in the future for the Project with the approval of the Council,” as per the Paradise Found (Project) Act, 2015.
Again, we are not privy to details nor are we lawyers, so we are going on the information we have at hand. But we do understand that concern that people have because the freehold issue has not been made entirely clear. Adding to the confusion and anxiety is the lack of knowledge as to how many other agreements hold a similar clause. Dulcina? Beach House? Peace Love & Happiness? Could this be a case where leases for large tracts of land are automatically converted to freehold for small compensation?
We could probably fill an entire paper, or more, with questions and concerns being raised by people on the street. There are so many questions that require answers, but at the top of the pile is the question of how will the transition from leasehold to freehold be accomplished, and what impacts will that have on existing agreements such as Paradise Found? The Government needs to address these issues sooner rather than later because the unease is growing.
The Government may have the law and the land on its side but there may be repercussions that Antiguans and Barbudans find are not to their liking. Our advice? Look before you leap!