Barbudans will get the opportunity to own the lands they previously occupied as the island seeks to rebuild following the devastation caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma last week.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne made the disclosure yesterday during a special sitting of Parliament.
He said Barbudans would be given a crown grant of one dollar to obtain legal ownership of the lands on the 62-square mile island.
Currently, land ownership is prohibited on the island of Barbuda; all lands in Barbuda are vested in the crown on behalf of the people on the sister island.
The Land Department under the Barbuda Council is the main governing body.
“Whatever land they are occupying now, rather than having a license to occupy, we are saying that we will give you freehold ownership,” Browne said, noting that residents of the sister island are elated over the idea.
“When you give a Barbudan a freehold, they can go into the bank, they can borrow monies, they can get a mortgage, they can build. They can get a loan for student purposes, to do businesses, it is a form of empowerment,” Browne said.
The nation’s leader also suggested that protective mechanisms could be instituted to prevent Barbudans from transferring the freehold ownership without the approval of the Barbuda Council.
Browne told Parliamentarians in the Lower House that it is untenable for Barbuda to be exclusively dependent on Antigua.
According to Browne, it was never the intent of the central government to take full responsibility for the payment of salaries and wages and other expenses on the sister island.
He said the intention was for Barbuda to be able to generate some level of revenue while Antigua would provide a subsidy.
“It has become a dependent relationship. Now I know that the Barbudans are proud people and they don’t want to be coming, cap in hand, to Antigua begging for a salary cheque on a weekly or monthly basis when they can generate their income,” the PM concluded.
Over 1,000 people on Barbuda had to be evacuated from the island last week after the country’s leader described the situation as “uninhabitable” following the hurricane that has also been blamed for the death of a two-year old child.
The PM said the sister island could not progress until the land tenure question is settled, adding that no country can move forward without a proper rights system.
He said consultations would be held with the people of Barbuda on the way forward.
Meanwhile, the government has announced a tentative agreement with the United Arab Emirates to assist with the installation of 800-megawatt solar power facility on Barbuda, as well as a medical health system.
Prime Minister Browne also said that he had instructed his bank to transfer EC$100,000 from his savings to a fund for the rehabilitation of the island.
Other Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party members have also pledged to dip into their pockets to fund the rebuilding effort.
PM Browne said that he expects other residents and businesses to step up to the plate.