Thursday, April 25, 2024

Sir Warwick’s highs and lows in politics


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Sir Warwick Franklin is an expert land surveyor and a former politician whose reputation as a surveyor is widely acknowledged even beyond Barbados, but as far as some Barbadians are concerned, the jury is still out on his political performance.

The long-retired former Minister of Agriculture still finds himself dogged by the CARSICOT (Caribbean Sea Island Cotton Company) scandal which erupted during his tenure, and the discussion associated with that period of his career never seems to end.

But despite the accusations and criticisms, last week, the 79-year-old said: “I sleep well every night.”

Reclining comfortably on the spacious patio of his St Philip home as he looked back on his entire career and his political life in particular, he said: “The only thing I got out of politics was debt, but I must say on the other hand I am glad I was able to contribute in some small way to the development of Barbados.”

He is now blind, the consequence of the diabetes with which he has been plagued for many years and is “not so sure” the diabetic problems “were not exacerbated by that whole CARSICOT” affair, but insists: “I have never gotten a penny, a loaf of bread, a sweet drink out of that CARSICOT. It was one of the things that I thought that, as a politician, was unfortunate.”

It was he whom then DLP leader Errol Barrow chose to contest the St Philip North seat left vacant following the bankruptcy of the former representative and then Speaker of the House of Assembly, Neville Maxwell, in the by-election of 1975. He lost that bid and was again a loser when he ran in the General Election of 1976.

His turn would however come in the 1981 General Election when he finally landed the St Philip North seat. He describes the circumstances of that election as “one of the most daring gerrymandering in the history of elections that was done to me”.

“They took Ebenezer and Brereton where I was born, out of St Philip North and put it in St John, so that not even my parents could vote for me,” he said.

However, that victory would lead to his continued representation of the constituency from 1981 to 1994. He went on to hold the ministerial portfolios of agriculture, food and fisheries, labour, consumer affairs and trade, and last week, he remarked: “I am more than satisfied with my contribution to my people and to Barbados and I sleep well at night.”

Sir Warwick’s commitment to the Democratic Labour Party, which he joined in 1957, remains steadfast and he particularly treasures the friendship he shared with party leader Errol Barrow.

“He [Barrow] came to my home and asked me if I would consider it [running for St Philip North],” he said, as he related his first attempt at gaining political representation. It was “a fairly risky decision to make at that time”, considering his responsibility for a young family, with dependent children. Nonetheless, he took the plunge after weighing that consideration against the reality that he had “reached the zenith of a Civil Service career.”

He now contends: “I did not win mainly because I was blamed for the increase in taxes on properties, as the main architect of the new site value and improved value of properties.”

A highly qualified land surveyor who had written a thesis entitled A Land Registration System For Barbados Based On The Torrens Title System  for which he was awarded the British Technical Assistance Award, while studying in Britain, Sir Warwick was chosen by Barrow as the ideal person to work on the project for the introduction of a new system of land evaluations intended to upgrade an “out-of-date” rental system in which the tax to be imposed used to be determined based on the rents it was thought the property could attract.

Though he concedes “the increase in taxes was fairly considerable”, he said it was “the part of my career that I value most in that I can safely say I had a substantial hand in the present system of land taxation in Barbados where I worked very closely and helped develop the system that we now use, of site value and improved value”.

Sir Warwick’s award of Knight of St Andrew in last year’s National Independence Honours was in recognition of the former Commissioner of Land Valuation’s “outstanding contribution to the land surveying profession and to the land and property valuation profession”.

That was his second area of employment after graduating from Combermere School as he had left teaching for the job of a trainee surveyor with the Department of Highways and Transport.

There his on-the-job land surveying education began, to be later enhanced with formal study, first at the Trinidad Departmental Survey School for the intermediate level of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors course.

A British technical assistance grant took him to Waltham Forest Technical College (now Northeast London University) in Britain and he was subsequently afforded extensive exposure to registry systems in several countries.

A flood of memories associated with his involvement in the building of St Andrew’s East Coast Road in the mid 60s came pouring out as he talked about the complex project in which he was involved as a young surveyor. It remains a treasured period of his life.

“The thing I liked about it, you were working with people who told you as it is.”

Sir Warwick praises his wife of 52 years, Grace Lady Franklin, for her devotion, for being there throughout every step of his life, the main reason she remains “Darling” as he fondly calls her.

“I want to place on record my everlasting indebtedness to her for being my constant companion for over 52 years now, for parenting our children and her guidance,” Sir Warwick said in acknowledgement of Lady Franklin’s enduring support.

“Unlike what people think, my wife carried a heavy financial burden during my political career. When I left politics in 1994 the only thing I left politics with was a large debt, so large that sometimes I did not have a long sleep because when I thought how I was going to tackle it, I could not sleep.” He indicated that debt was largely incurred as he tried to meet  the heavy demands of constituents standing “in long lines” week after week, awaiting assistance of one kind or another.

“I was so heavily in debt”, Sir Warwick said, but revealed he found some respite through work done in Grenada and St Kitts following devastation by hurricanes in the two islands. The two assignments provided him with “a lovely pay day”, and enabled him “to make the necessary arrangement with my bank to settle the debt”.

He went on to build the successful private business in partnership with his late twin brother Vallan, also a land surveyor.

There is no mistaking Sir Warwick’s admiration for Barrow, who also supported him in the down periods, one of the reasons he continues to support the DLP. He prides himself on mentoring “some of the finest young politicians” in the 1986 general election naming four.

“Robert ‘Bobby’ Morris beat Bree (Sir Harold) St John; Peter Miller beat (Dame) Billie Millar; Edgar Bourne beat Johnny (Sir Richard) Cheltenham and I took Richard Byer and I beat (Sir) Louis Tull and they brought off the biggest coup you could think of then,” he reflected.

He also credited himself with influencing “quite a few of this present crop of politicians in no small way”.

Sir Warwick is “humbled, grateful and appreciative” that his proposers for the Knight of St Andrew award considered him worthy of such an honour.

Emphasising the satisfaction he derives from being able to lead “a quiet life” in spite of the challenges he once faced, he concluded: “I have spent a long time in politics and there is not a man, woman or child that can say Warwick Franklin ever took a penny from them for anything.” (GC)


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