Freedom in the World 2004 - Antigua and Barbuda
|Publication Date||18 December 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2004 - Antigua and Barbuda, 18 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473c547216.html [accessed 9 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 2
Status: Partly Free
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: Anglican (predominant)
Ethnic Groups: Black, British, Portuguese, Lebanese, Syrian
Capital: St. John's
In 2003, as a result of pervasive infighting within the ruling Antigua Labour Party (ALP), three members left the party and are now sitting as independents. Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence in 1981. In 1994, the elder Vere Bird stepped down as prime minister in favor of his son Lester. In the run-up to the 1994 election, three opposition parties united to form the United Progressive Party (UPP), which campaigned on a social-democratic platform emphasizing rule of law and good governance. Parliamentary seats held by the 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. Yet the government continued to be dogged by scandals, and in 1995, the prime minister's brother, 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.
In June 2003, four dissident legislators of the ALP announced that they no longer had confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Lester Bird and left the party. At the last minute, one of the dissidents returned to the party, thus preventing an early election. A new election is scheduled for June 2004.
The endemic corruption of state institutions continues unabated, and only 4 of the 14 people named in a Royal Commission of Inquiry, which concluded that there were serious instances of fraud in the medical-benefits program, have been indicted. The Medical Association has alleged official obstruction and emphasizes that improprieties continue. The prime minister's brother, Vere Bird, Jr., continued to serve as minister of agriculture despite an arms-trafficking inquiry that concluded he should be barred from government service.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system: a bicameral legislature is composed of the 17-member House of Representatives (16 seats go to Antigua, 1 to Barbuda) in which members serve 5-year terms, and an appointed Senate. 11 senators are appointed by the prime minister, 4 by the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 by the Barbuda Council, and 1 by the governor-general.
Political parties can organize freely. However, the ruling party's monopoly on patronage makes it difficult for opposition parties to attract membership and financial support. The government has been planning to reform the electoral system by establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to review electoral law and redraw constituency boundaries, create a new voter registry, and introduce voter identification cards; however, the relevant legislation has not yet been introduced. The Electoral Office of Jamaica commission was contracted to prepare a new voter list; deceased and absent voters have not been removed from the list since 1975.
Although the government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation in parliament in October 2002, no significant action has been taken. If the bills are approved, public officials would be required to make an annual declaration of assets, with failure to comply becoming a punishable offense. The Integrity in Public Life Act 2002 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002, which are being submitted as part of Organization of American States and United Nations anticorruption treaties signed by the country, will help establish provisions for regulating and guaranteeing good governance. The administration and enforcement of the acts would fall to an independent commission. The legislation also aims to define corruption.
The ALP government and the Bird family continue to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The government owns one of three radio stations and the television station. One of the prime minister's 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. There is free access to the Internet. The Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedoms was signed in September 2002.
The government respects religious and academic freedom.
Labor unions and civic organizations 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 ruling party has manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which has been powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. 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.
A resolution to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value was presented to parliament in late 2002. Social discrimination and violence against women are problems. The governmental Directorate of Women's Affairs has sought to increase awareness of women's legal rights.