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(ANTIGUA OBSERVER) – The Barbuda Land (Amendment) Bill 2017, aimed at bringing freehold land ownership to the devastated island, attracted lengthy and passionate debate in the Lower House on Thursday, continuing into the night.
And, as at the first reading earlier this month, the debate inside the House attracted protests outside as Barbudans, supported by several other mainland residents, condemned the move as a government attempt at a land grab.
Inside, opposition leader Baldwin Spencer urged the government to postpone the final readings of the bill so that consultations could be had with Barbudans. “To move to the second and third reading of this bill is in my view not justified in the sense, Mr. Speaker, that the nature and content of this bill requires consultation and discussion, particularly with, and among, the people of Barbuda.
I’m not aware, Mr. Speaker, that that would have taken place to allow for us to proceed with a second and third reading of a bill which is of great import to all of us,” Spencer contended. But Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, the attorney general, in response called on the opposition leader not to attempt to “clog up” the work of the parliament. According to Benjamin, enough time had passed since the first reading of the bill on December 12 during which time further amendments had been made.
The AG noted that the bill did not infringe on any parliamentary rule and urged that the debate be continued. Arthur Nibbs, the Barbuda representative, said the bill was government empowering Barbudans to help themselves. “I want to understand how is it that the government is making an offerto the Barbudans but somebody now is going to term that as a land grab.
How you gonna grab and give at the same time? What part of that is a land grab when Barbudans alone will be able to exercise that option to own the land for a dollar?” he posited. The Antiguans are paying $80,000 for one plot of land and Barbudans get an offer of a Crown grant for a dollar and you say that is land grab? Come on!” he added. The government has argued that the lack of land ownership has stymied the Barbudans’ ability to rebuild following Hurricane Irma since they have no access to capital.