Freedom in the World
Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Antigua and Barbuda continued to struggle throughout 2005 with the new political dynamic created by the historic defeat of Prime Minister Lester Bird by opposition figure Baldwin Spencer in 2004, particularly as the new government opened several high-level corruption investigations against its predecessor.
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 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. The vote was deemed to be generally free and fair by Commonwealth observers. 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.
Steps have been taken to strengthen political institutions, but the country continues to struggle to overcome a deep legacy of corruption. Only 4 of the 14 people named in a 2002 Royal Commission of Inquiry, which concluded there were serious instances of fraud in the medical-benefits program, had been indicted before Bird left office. The Medical Association has alleged official obstruction and emphasizes that improprieties continue. One of the former prime minister's brothers, Vere Bird Jr., continued to serve until the 2004 elections as minister of agriculture despite an arms-trafficking inquiry that concluded he should be barred from government service. In 2005, the Bird family became the target of legal investigations for alleged corruption. The new government filed a lawsuit against Lester Bird and two associates, claiming that a company owned by the three men had occupied public land without paying rent for 18 years, and that the Bird government sold public land to the company at below market prices.
Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda can change their government democratically. 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), in which members serve 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 Bermuda), and 1 by the governor-general, a position that has been filled by Sir James B. Carlisle 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 has been planning 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. However, the relevant legislation has not yet been introduced. The Electoral Office of Jamaica commission, a governmental body, 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, 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 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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-con-trolled electronic media. In June 2005, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer sought new legislation to curb slander and harassment on the radio, but the opposition claimed this was an effort to restrict free speech. There is free access to the internet. The Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedoms was signed in September 2002. 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.
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 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 March 2005, the government introduced the Equal Opportunity Act barring 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 and the positions of Speaker of parliament and president of the Senate. The first female police commissioner was appointed in 2005.