DCA targets UPP, demolishing caretaker’s billboard; Party plans to sue government agency

The Development Control Authority (DCA) continues to show that it is
politically influenced, and the United Progressive Party (UPP) is planning to
sue its officials for the destruction of a caretaker’s billboard.

On the morning of Holy Thursday, March 28, DCA officials demolished and
removed a billboard that had stood on the Whenner Road premises of the
Party’s St. Mary’s North constituency branch.

The billboard was the property of UPP Senator Johnathan Joseph.
Accordingly, attorney Leon “Chaku” Symister, the Party’s spokesperson on
legal matters, says the action taken by the DCA will be challenged in the
High Court of Justice.

Calling the action illegal and politically motivated, Symister confirmed to
REAL News that UPP Political Leader Jamale Pringle has directed that
this matter be taken before the court right away.

That was Leon Chaku Symister, UPP spokesperson on legal matters.

The January 18, 2023 General Election came and went and the October
2023 by-election in St. Mary’s South, as well.

But, apparently, it has only just come to the attention of DCA head
Frederick Southwell, the town and country planner, that political billboards
are still in place.

In a letter dated March 25, 2024, and addressed to Senator Shawn
Nicholas, the general secretary of the UPP, Southwell writes that

permission was granted to the Party on December 15, 2022, for the
temporary erection of political billboards for the 2023 General Election.
According to him, the UPP entered into an agreement in which it was
“explicitly” stated that all political material should be removed within 14
days following the election.
Southwell says it has come to the DCA’s attention that political materials for
the Party remain displayed well beyond the stipulated time frame granted –
which is an oversight on the Authority’s part –and this contravenes the
condition of the agreement.
He adds that this failure also impacts regulatory compliance, as stipulated
in Section 51 of the Physical Planning Act, 2003.

The town and country planner therefore instructed the Party to take
immediate action to remove all political paraphernalia “without further

Failure to do so “will leave the DCA with no other option but to proceed with
the demolition” of the associated political materials, the letter says; so the
UPP should act promptly to avoid any unnecessary actions.

That letter was received yesterday, March 27, one day before  the
demolition of the St. Mary’s North caretaker’s billboard.

Tellingly, Southwell appears to be focused only on billboards belonging to
UPP politicians, since those of the Antigua Labour Party’s candidates
remain in place, undisturbed.

On Whenner Road, mere yards from Senator Joseph’s branch office, a
billboard displaying Sir Molwyn Joseph and Prime Minister Gaston Browne
remained upright after the demolition of the UPP property.
In the prime minister’s constituency of St. John’s City West – 14 months
after the General Election – a canvas of his image still stands on a plot of
land reportedly owned by his relatives, while “political” billboards are said to
remain on display in St. Paul, as well.

This arbitrary removal of Senator Joseph’s billboard appears to have been
sparked by a canvas that was displayed there two Fridays ago.

That canvas showed a photo of Brian Stuart-Young, Global Bank of
Commerce’s chief executive officer; quoted a statement from Prime
Minister Browne; and referred to the millions of United States dollars the
offshore bank owes businessman Jack Stroll.

With zero notice for removal or appeal, the DCA destroyed and removed
the poster, leaving the original display – an image of Senator Joseph –
intact and the billboard upright.

Then, last Friday, another canvas bearing Stuart-Young’s image and a call
for the bank to pay Stroll was summarily removed from a billboard owned
by UPP parliamentarian Kelvin “Shugy” Simon, in Bolans.

Simon has since said he intends to sue the DCA for trespassing on private

Residents have been critical of the DCA’s actions and accused the agency
– which falls within the portfolios of the prime minister’s wife, Maria Browne
– of being politically directed.

They contend that these actions are in breach of the constitutional right to
freedom of expression and that the DCA has no legal authority to regulate
the content, or message, of billboards.

Others have alleged that the destruction of the messages are Prime
Minister Browne’s heavy-handed attempts to shield Stuart-Young from
public criticism.