The Antigua government Monday announced plans to provide each Barbudan a Crown grant for one dollar in order to obtain ownership legally of the lands they now occupy as the island seeks to rebuild following the battering it took from the passage of Hurricane Irma last week.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking during a special sitting of the Antigua and Barbuda Parliament, said “we are saying here we will give you freehold ownership.
“I want to tell you the Barbudans I have spoken to they are absolutely elated over it,” Browne said, noting that the initiative would empower them significantly.
“When you give a Barbudan freehold, first of all those who have their properties that are damaged, they can go into the bank, they can borrow money, they can repair their properties, they can get a mortgage they can build.
“They can get a loan for student purposes, to businesses. It is a form of empowerment,” Browne told legislators, adding “it is untenable in the 21st century for Barbuda to be exclusively dependent on Antigua.
“It is totally untenable…and the irony about it, each time that salaries and wages are late, they hold the Central government responsible. It was never the intent of the Central government to take full responsibility for the payment of salaries and wages and other expenses in Barbuda.
“The intent was…that Barbuda would be able to generate some level of revenue and that Antigua would have provided a subsidy. But clearly it has become a totally dependent relationship,” he said, noting that Barbudans are “proud people and they don’t want to be coming cap in hand to Antigua begging for salay cheque on a weekly basis or monthly basis when they can generate their own income”.
The government last week ordered the evacuation of the estimated 1,800 people on Barbuda after Prime Minister Browne described the situation there as “uninhabitable” following the hurricane that has also been blamed for the death of at least a two-year old child.
Browne told legislators that Barbudans had been “relegated to squatters” after indicating that they were never in possession of any documents indicating that they owned the lands where they had built homes, opened businesses and other activities.
“Barbuda can’t progress until the present land tenure is settled,” he said, adding that no country can move forward without having a proper rights system.
“This is a time to put aside the politics and look at issues based on merit,” he said, noting that under the new initiative mechanism will be put in place to ensure that the freehold lands are not easily sold..
He said the government intends to use more than US$312 million from the United Arab Emirates to building a green environment on Barbuda with the purchase of solar power equipment as well as in the future developing a medical health system that could be exported to the world.
In his contribution to the Special Sitting of Parliament, Browne announced that he had intrusted his bank to make available EC$100,000 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) from his own personal savings to go towards a fund for the rehabilitation of the island.
He said he is confident that at least three million US dollars could be raised from domestic sources, adding “I want to make an appeal here to every Antiguan even if it is a 100 dollars, I am asking you to make a contribution.
“I expect every Antiguan and Barbudan to step up to the plate. I also want to say here that all of the individuals who collect government rent I want them to contribute at least one month’s rent to the recovery efforts.
“As parliamentarians I expect each and every one of us to step up to the plate,’ Browne said, calling also on the commercial banks and other businesses operating here to contribute to the fund.
“There are wealthy people in this country who can contribute,” Browne said, adding “I know we can’t legislate it but we are demanding it”.
Browne said he was thankful to the regional and international community that has already come to the aid of his battered unitary state.