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posted 4 Jan 2018, 12:34 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 4 Jan 2018, 12:35 ]
The United Progressive Party (UPP), in passing the Barbuda Land Act 2007, (The BLA) enshrined in the law something unique in the
Prime Minister Of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne.
practice of democracy in these former colonial territories (Antigua and Barbuda).

I am amazed that such a radical idea is missed or ignored, even by people who once called for communities to participate in the policy process before policies got implemented.

While Barbudans have the BLA, Europeans have their referendums and plebiscites which they can use to challenge decisions made by governments or before such decisions, they can insert themselves in the political process to procure certain outcomes that are just.

In some cases, the results are not binding. However, a government runs the risk of losing an election if it ignores the results of a referendum.

Within the framework of representative democracy, the citizens of Barbuda won a special right which gives them final say over what happens to lands in Barbuda. Before the vote, the law expects consultation and deliberation.

Neither the Council nor Cabinet can upend the process when they are operating within the framework of the BLA. Can you imagine if this democratic procedure became the norm in Antigua and Barbuda and a structure of government emerged which really gave power to the people?

People in Antigua have the vote, but their power does not flow automatically from voting. In representative democracy, citizens cede their power to parliamentary representatives. In doing so, voters’ interest seldom becomes the priority because competing interests and outcomes are determined by the interplay of wealth, personal or class interest and political expediency.

Demanding change is good but it requires, too, a change in the political institution to allow popular approval for policies that will alter or advance the life of the community.

As pertaining specifically to land use, Barbudans have this power because in the BLA, Section 6 (1), says that “The Council, with the approval and on the advice of Cabinet and having obtained the consent of a majority of the people of Barbuda, may grant lease of land for major development.” In Part V1 16 (2) it declares that “Major developments in Barbuda shall not take place without the agreement of the Cabinet and the Council and the consent of the people of Barbuda.” Who is it that would not die to protect this right?

This tripartite model guarantees Barbudans will always be in control of the land, and it is the land which is the foundation that supports the pursuit of the right to life, liberty, equality and human development. The BLA exists also to prevent a single person or persons acting in concert from concentrating too much land in their possession which they can use to create wealth.

With wealth, political influence and the vote can be purchased. Robert A. Dahl in Economic Democracy (p.54) says the following: “ownership and control (of wealth) contribute to the great differences among citizens in wealth, information, control over information and propaganda” and I will add income. Written in 1985, it has become a fact of life, particularly in the USA and Antigua is not too far behind. Barbudans don’t have to go down that road. They can and should come up with a new model of development.

When visions collide, Barbudan people have the last say. Their vote binds the Council and Cabinet, and neither can act contrary to the decision made by the people. The Antigua Cabinet and Barbuda’s Parliamentary representatives despise this democratic procedure. In the first place, they do not think ordinary Barbudans, referred to as “imbeciles’’ and “dunces” by the Prime Minister, are sufficiently intelligent to make good choices.

They have no respect for the wishes of Barbudans and Antiguans too. You can’t love one and despise the other. Secondly, what is good for the Barbudans is not good for Cabinet and big business.

Once the people maintain the power to make the final decision about land use Cabinet, rightly or wrongly, believes that it cannot overcome this conundrum unless it expunges the people from the BLA. They are now being obliterated.

The Barbuda Land Management (Amendment) Act, 2017 deletes all the clauses that say the decision to use land in Barbuda must be decided by the Barbudans by voting. Where it says the Crown owns the land in Barbuda on behalf of the people, all the words after Crown are deleted. And a full stop appears after Crown.

This means, Cabinet has no obligation to manage lands in Barbuda on behalf or in the interest of the Barbudan people. The Barbuda Council’s role is reduced to receiving applications but the decision about the use and distribution is the Cabinet’s.

Cabinet may or may not consult the Council. The question raised about the constitutionality of the BLA, 2007 was a hoax, a mere decoy to conceal the fact that the Brown administration is elitist, antidemocratic with dictatorial proclivities.

For once in Antigua and Barbuda, UPP’s Barbuda Land Act, 2007, quite unlike The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party’s Land Management Act, 2017, (now before Parliament) gives the Barbudan people the power to prevent any government from doing whatever it likes with the land in Barbuda.

Antiguans waste a lot of time debating whether Barbudans should have that right. What they should be doing is demanding to have the same right and more, particularly when it comes to the use of finite resources. This absence of solidarity and empathy is going to be the bane of us all.