OPINION: Any Government’s policies determining the future of land rights in Barbuda should reflect the will of the Barbudan people

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

A recent decision in the case Trevor Walker and Mackenzie Frank, vs. The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda has set the precedent for the future of lands in Barbuda. CLICK HERE TO JOIN OUR WHATSAPP GROUP.

The case concerns two important laws: the Paradise Found Act of 2015, which authorized the government of Barbuda to lease lands for development without approval from the local government or the people of Barbuda, and the Barbuda Land Act of 2007, which establishes that lands in Barbuda are owned in common by the people of Barbuda.

In the recent case, the court affirmed the constitutionality of the Paradise Found Act and set precedent relevant to the Parliament’s effort to overturn the Barbuda Land Act. Taken together, the judicial ruling opens the door to further lease-based privatization of land in Barbuda and further undermines the interests of Barbudans’ who wish to retain their land in common ownership.

The Prime Minister has now seized the opportunity to convince Barbudans to support the Barbuda Land Amendment Act of 2018, which would give them individual land title for the cost of only one dollar.

The prime minister has not provided a formal proposal detailing who gets the $1 offer. Whether it applies only to Barbudans that already occupy lands or Barbudans that are now applying for land. Barbudans fear that accepting this offer would open the door for the sale of lands in Barbuda.

They hold that privatization of lands is a custom that they have been historically opposed to. Barbudans fear that their unique way of life and eco-friendly tourism brand will be destroyed.

Any government policies determining the future of land rights in Barbuda should reflect the will of the Barbudan people. This requires a fair decision-making process, in which Barbudans can engage one another, express their interests and concerns, and work toward a consensus or agreement.

Land policy for Barbuda should be based on this kind of reasoned exchange rather than the Cabinet’s distant view of what is good for Barbuda. The onus is on the local government to meet with the people of Barbuda to present the Cabinets offer, and to develop a response that accurately represents what emerges from a fair decision process. Whatever the people agree to should be articulated into policy and then presented to Cabinet.

If the people are being denied the fair process of deliberation, those in authority should be held accountable at both the local and national levels.