Communal land ownership in Barbuda a myth, says prime minister


The premise that Barbudans own their land communally is a “myth” perpetuated for generations with no basis in the constitution, the prime minister of the Caribbean twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda has said.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne refuted a widespread belief held by many Barbudans that land passed into their communal ownership after Britain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1834.

Activists have warned the island’s communal system is under threat from government plans to bring in private land ownership to boost development and tourism after Hurricane Irma struck last year bringing huge damage.

“This issue about Barbudans owning the land on Barbuda in common is a fallacy, it’s a myth – it never existed,” Browne told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London last week.

“In terms of the legal ownership, Barbudans never had ownership, and up to this day do not have ownership. They occupy the land informally and unchallenged,” he said.

The dispute intensified in December when parliament amended a decade-old law that enshrined communal land ownership. The amendment weakens its provisions by allowing private ownership, and opens the door to foreign investment, activists said.

In March, Browne’s government announced its intention to repeal the law entirely.

Activists and Barbuda’s sole elected lawmaker, Trevor Walker, said changes to land ownership had left Barbudans feeling angry and disenfranchised.

Walker also said Barbudans “adored” their communal land system and warned their traditional way of life would be extinguished if wealthy developers were allowed to profit as a result of any changes.

With many homes on the tiny island still without water and electricity, Walker criticized Browne for slow rebuilding efforts after the hurricane, and a lack of transparency and accountability regarding international donor relief funds.

“We have mechanisms in place to ensure that every cent is accounted for,” Browne said in response.

“Politicians do not get involved in the spending of the money – the money goes into a dedicated Barbuda fund that is operated by public servants…We have no access to the funds, neither directly nor indirectly,” he said.

Browne said more than 150 homes had been rebuilt since the hurricane struck seven months ago, with work also done on the airport, council building, secondary school and hospital.

He said there was no “quick fix” to recovery, especially as many international donor pledges remain unfulfilled.

For Browne, giving Barbudans individual freeholder title would unlock the “latent potential” of the land and bring about development and economic sustainability for the island of just a few thousand residents.

“A well-developed property rights system is fundamental to any country’s growth and development,” he said adding the central government in Antigua had been burdened by the crisis in Barbuda.

“You cannot tell us that you do not want any development and then come to us, the Antiguan treasury, for a cheque on a monthly basis,” he said.

British-Antiguan barrister Leslie Thomas said the rights of Barbudans were being “trampled”, and told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he would mount a legal challenge to protect the communal land system.

Browne, however, said provisions would be made in law this month to protect Barbudans from property speculation by prohibiting expatriates from buying large tracts of land to speculate on, as a protective mechanism.

“We’re not trying to disenfranchise anyone. We are enfranchising them with ownership,” he said.

(Thompson Reuters Foundation)

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  1. So right Dave, it’s called the love of money. Making his wife the minister of lands is no coincidence. He’s going to sell the land and pocket the monies…. such a shame that Antiguans just not seeing the truth for what it is. I pray God’s mercy on Antigua, last year was a test as to how we treated Barbudans during their time of perils. The first thing to be spoken of before the winds of Irma had settled was the land land land… nothing has been spent right. No electricity, no water, no fogging, no cash in the cash point, no fresh food…. Airport has no lights but building a new airport.. Sand is being sold, nothing in it for Barbuda, charities want to help but keep getting told no.. Course the PM wants the land, make money, sell us out to the foreigners..

  2. Beware, Alexander the Great thought he was invincible; he was not! Napoleon thought he was invincible; he was not! Stalin thought he was invincible; he was not! Hitler thought he was invincible; he was not! Hugo Chavez thought he was invincible; he was not! Are you invincible? I think not! Pay day will come!

  3. ( 2 ) In the exercise by the Council of its powers and functions under this Act it shall be the responsibility and duty
    of the Council-
    ( a ) to administer agriculture and forestry;
    ( b ) to administer public health, medical and
    sanitary facilities and services;
    (c) to administer and regulate the provision of electricity and water services and other public utilities;
    (d) to construct, improve and maintain roads;
    (e) to raise and collect revenue pursuant to the provisions of this Act to enable the Council to meet expenses
    necessarily incurred or to be incurred in the performance
    of its powers and functions under this subsection except
    to the extent that financial provision in that behalf may
    be made from time to time by Parliament.

  4. Oh my. Wishing doesn’t make it so Gaston. If you insist on sounding like a dunce can’t you at least keep it local?

  5. Why don’t the PM just leaf them with and given them their independance and let them.go. No matter what he do there is no pleasing these people.

  6. In regard to what is term a “myth” I wonder if on Codrington departure from Barbuda he made it clear to the Barbudans that he is leaving and I am going to leave you in this wilderness like wild sheep and goats or as an agent of the crown he reminded them how hard they worked and incouraged them to continue to work hard on the land that is now theirs. Bearing in mind that for all those years prior to Independence the British Crown hadn’t contested them utilizing the land and lived on it as Communal land. Correct me if they did but I’ve never heard of it.

  7. AntBarBrit; I can see and appreciate where you’re are coming from. But I must say I have no prayer for the people of Antigua. They knew what they were getting into and choose that path. It’s time for the people to start thinking for themselves and do the right thing. We keep saying that the people of Barbuda are backwards and want nothing good for themselves take a serious look at what Antigua people did to themselves one month ago and tell me if they are any more civilize than the people they are trying to belittle. We have to stop making excuse for these people and let them realize who won’t hear will feel.

    • Oh boo hoo aru so dam sickening. Elections done an aru tell ah damn belleyache and bawl. Aru party get blow like one road march. 15-1-1 tek that inn aru neenee. Antigua people are quite fine where we at unlike them lazy ungreaful Barbudan who nah want notjing good for them. Mr PM go England and demand the sepration of Antigua and Barbuda. Mek them ungratful lazy asses go you see how fast them star to sell land to survive.

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