Saturday, April 20, 2024

ON REFLECTION – Healing country must be priority

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IT DID NOT surprise many that, amid the love and admiration expressed in the hallowed halls of Parliament last Tuesday, that Opposition Leader Owen Arthur found a way to mar the proceedings.
In a speech that could have been rooted in his view that the late Prime Minister David Thompson was one of the most remarkable men of his generation – post-Independence Barbados – Arthur sought to set a forgotten record straight regarding discussions between him and the late Prime Minister over the appointment of a Chief Justice, and to lambaste the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) because it arguably forced Thompson to work hard to restore unity to the party.
It was not the occasion for any such reminders; for it offended the grieving widow and left some listeners dumbfounded. In fact, far from berating the DLP about the work that Thompson had to put in to re-establish the party between 2006 and 2007, Arthur, based on his experience from bringing the “three blind mice” back to national leadership that would last nearly a decade-and-a-half, should have empathised with and praised the late leader.
Furthermore, in the midst of the present turmoil that is fracturing the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Arthur could have based his tribute on the idea of healing, which would have led him to give a gentler speech to the august Chamber. But none of that gentler, fairer stuff is Arthur’s way.
Scoring some sort of political point has long been his habit, and many still hurt from the sting of his criticism and name-calling via a string of mysterious “documents” which he would magically pull out at the end of Budget speeches and other parliamentary sittings.
Not the right time But last week was simply not the right time.
Even Arthur’s cohorts knew it, and tailored their speeches to reflect Thompson, the man, and not necessarily the political opponent.
However, I nor anyone else should dismiss Mr Arthur as being wild or accidental in his speech.
In fact, with the annual BLP general conference slated for last weekend, he would probably have seen his words as having the potential of reminding Barbadians that the current ruling party still had several cracks in its armour, and that the BLP is still a “Government in waiting”. But is it?
Occurrences at last weekend’s conference, which ended yesterday, proved definitively that the Opposition is a long way from being a Government in waiting, and that the wound in this long-standing party – with Arthur at the centre – remains very painful, especially for former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and her supporters.  
I would go as far as to say that, with Arthur at the centre of this burning wound, healing is extremely unlikely; since by his very political nature he will continue to rub salt into the wound by his words, even on the most delicate of occasions.
And lest anyone believe that I favour any of the other main characters in this saga – namely Mottley and chairman George Payne – let me suggest that none of the three seems able to even start the process of healing necessary to make the Opposition a true “Government in waiting”.
Alternative leader
Arthur amazingly seems unable to come to grips with his 2008 election defeat; Mottley has been discredited; and Payne, having only found his voice in the last three years after a decade of silence in Parliament, is not seen as an alternative leader, nor perhaps does he want to be. So who can Barbadians turn to for the revival of a relevant Opposition and a healthy “Government in waiting”?
Look to Dale Marshall. He, mentored by Payne, is the most obvious alternative choice as the fierce battle of words between Arthur and Mottley continues; and the BLP can choose to let this sword fight go on until blood is spilt, or elect an interim leader supported by bright, youthful candidates who can bring a breath of fresh air to the acrimony.
On the Government side, the current popular phrase from political observers is “call a snap election” before Christmas. Striking while the opponent is in disarray sounds attractive, but what would be the gain except to give the DLP massive sympathy votes and a fresh term in office? The gain would be purely political.
It might enhance Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s image since he would have an election victory under his belt, at least until 2016 and in the annals of Barbados’ history, but it would do nothing for Barbados or for its economy, and could actually engender massive election spending which we can ill afford now.
Stuart, supported by his Minister of Finance, should make it Government’s priority to grapple with the economy and prove his mettle over the remaining three years which are constitutionally due, instead of seeking to cement his leadership immediately following Thompson’s death.
Too many political games have been centred around Thompson’s sickness and death; and Stuart must not add to them.
Meanwhile, the St John by-election is in the air and many are calling for Mara Thompson to offer herself as a candidate. I would be the last one to seek to advise her, as many others have via various media, since such a decision calls for thorough soul-searching and the need to prioritise or balance care of her young family with the love and wishes of the people of St John.
Ideally, Barbadians can try to maintain the legacy of Prime Minister Thompson by having his widow represent St John, and if one of his daughters shows interest in politics in the not-too-distant future it
would be icing on the cake; but Barbadians must also come to grips with the fact that no one can effectively fill Thompson’s shoes – not in St John nor on the national stage.
But in both cases, the job must be done, and Barbadians should be willing to give whoever is chosen a fair chance.
While we prepare for a by-election and possible snap election, Haiti is being readied for its national election on November 28. Though this was called before the cholera outbreak last month, it would be wise for the present administration to make this rampant disease its No. 1 priority.
With low voter turnout being the norm, postponing the election would make little difference in a nation plagued by either exploitation or inefficiency at government level. Abject poverty, the spectre of half the population being illiterate, 80 per cent of primary schools being private, a frightening baby boom, and hardly any repairs being done since the January earthquake, make elections in Haiti futile.
The world needs to step in and not just be “sorry”.

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