Antigua and Barbuda (2007)
Political Rights Score: 2
In 2006, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer launched an investigation against a popular radio announcer, previously affiliated with the Lester Bird administration. During the year, Antigua and Barbuda moved to diversify its international trading partners.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence in 1981. In 1994, Vere Bird stepped down as prime minister in favor of his son Lester. In the run-up to the 1994 election, three opposition parties joined forces to form the United Progressive Party (UPP), which campaigned on a social-democratic platform emphasizing the rule of law and good governance. Parliamentary seats held by Bird’s Antigua Labour Party (ALP) fell from 15 in 1989 to 11, while the number for the UPP rose from 1 to 5.
After assuming office, Lester Bird promised a less corrupt, more efficient government. However, the government continued to be dogged by scandals. In 1995, one of the prime minister’s brothers, Ivor, received only a fine after having been convicted of cocaine smuggling. In the March 1999 elections, the ALP won 12 parliamentary seats; the UPP, 4; and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), 1.
On March 23, 2004, after a hard-fought and at times vitriolic campaign, the UPP, led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated the ALP. Commonwealth observers declared the vote to have been generally free and fair. The election’s results, which were not contested, were a crushing defeat for the ALP, which retained only 4 out of the 17 seats in Parliament. The UPP won 12 seats, while the BPM, an ally of the UPP, won the Barbuda seat in a runoff election. Both the prime minister and his brother, Vere Bird Jr., lost their seats in Parliament. The election brought an end to the political dynasty of the Bird family, which had dominated politics in Antigua and Barbuda since 1976.
In the spring of 2006, police detained ALP activist James “Tanny” Rose for questioning about financial transactions at the state-owned Antigua Broadcasting Service. Rose, who is a talk show host on Radio ZDK, which is owned by former prime minister Lester Bird, had gained notoriety through his scathing criticisms of the current government. Rose was later arrested and charged with wrongdoing in public office related to advertising commissions and sales during his tenure as director general of the state radio service.
In August 2006, the Ministry of Tourism announced a boom in development with 40 tourism-related new construction and renovation projects totaling nearly US$1.4 billion over the next five years. However, in October, Antigua and Barbuda suffered a further setback to its struggle to preserve its online gambling industry when the U.S. Congress passed a bill prohibiting U.S. banks and credit card companies from settling transactions for patrons of internet gambling sites; the legislation undercuts a previous World Trade Organization ruling on the issue that favored Antigua and Barbuda. During the year, the country signed new agreements with China and Venezuela in a bid to diversify its international trading partners.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Antigua and Barbuda is an electoral democracy. The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system: a bicameral Parliament is composed of the 17-member House of Representatives (16 seats go to Antigua, 1 to Barbuda), to which members are elected for five-year terms, and an appointed Senate. Of the senators, 11 are appointed by the prime minister, 4 by the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 by the Barbuda Council (an 11-member local government body that runs the internal affairs of the island of Barbuda), and 1 by the governor-general. Sir James B. Carlisle has been governor-general since 1993. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party or coalition that emerges from the legislative elections.
Political parties can organize freely. The government plans to reform the electoral system by establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to review electoral law and redraw constituency boundaries, creating a new voter registry, and introducing voter identification cards.
Although the government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation into Parliament in October 2002, and in 2004 the Spencer administration passed legislation to improve governmental transparency, implementation has been slow. The Integrity of Public Life Bill, which parliament adopted in 2004, requires that public officials make an annual declaration of assets, with failure to comply becoming a punishable offense. In January 2005, the country became the fourth member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which requires public officials to declare their assets and liabilities, improves cooperation on the collective fight against corruption, and strengthens corporate accounting practices. Antigua and Barbuda was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Antigua and Barbuda generally respects freedom of expression and freedom of the press, but in practice media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. The family of former prime minister Lester Bird continues to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The government owns one of three radio stations and the television station. One of the Bird brothers owns a second station, and another brother owns the cable company. Opposition parties complain of receiving limited coverage from, and having little opportunity to present their views on, the government-controlled electronic media. In June 2005, Prime Minister Spencer sought new legislation to curb slander and harassment on the radio, but the opposition claimed this was an effort to restrict free speech. In August 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights praised the country’s efforts to pass the Freedom of Information Act to improve public access to education; additional steps were taken to end the state’s media monopoly. In the spring of 2006, an antigovernment radio host was arrested on charges stemming from corruption allegedly committed during the previous Bird administration. There is free access to the internet.
The government respects religious and academic freedom.
Nongovernmental organizations and labor unions can organize freely. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes, but public sector unions tend to be under the sway of the ruling party. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment.
The country’s legal system is based on English common law. The ALP had manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which was powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. The UPP has sought to increase the transparency of public affairs through new legislation and to establish clear guidelines for investment practices.
The islands’ security forces are composed of the police and the small Antigua and Barbuda Defence Forces. The police generally respect human rights; basic police reporting statistics, however, are confidential. The country’s prison is in primitive condition and has been criticized for the abuse of inmates, though visits are permitted by independent human rights groups.
Increased patrols and the reintroduction of roadblocks and stiffer fines for firearms violations were offered as a response to higher levels of crime, which the government attributed to a new trend of gun possession among island youth and an influx of criminal deportees from the United States and Europe with links to the drug trade. In October 2005, Senate president Hazelyn Francis was assaulted and raped in her Antigua home, which intensified the debate around high levels of crime and prompted a review of security arrangements for government officials.
In March 2005, the government introduced the Equal Opportunity Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. Social discrimination and violence against women remain problems, however. The governmental Directorate of Women’s Affairs has sought to increase awareness of women’s legal rights. Women have gained ground in the political system, holding two cabinet posts, the positions of Speaker of Parliament and president of the Senate, and, since 2005, the post of police commissioner.