We will answer the people!DENIS KELLMAN: I could not look at flying fish, I could not sell out Barbados. (FP)
By KAYMAR JORDAN Editor-in-Chief | Sun, June 24, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Former CARICOM Ambassador Denis Kellman believes Barbados should tread very cautiously on the matter of a fishing agreement with Trinidad and Tobago.
In a wide-ranging interview this past week, Kellman revealed a close relationship with former prime minister Patrick Manning, while insisting that Bridgetown should not rush to sign on the dotted line with Port of Spain.
Now the Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development, Kellman also gave his reading of the domestic political climate and looked ahead to this week’s Budget.
He spoke to Editor-In-Chief Kaymar Jordan while in Jamaica attending the inaugural Caribbean Growth Forum which focused on competitiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Minister, pleasure seeing you in Jamaica. How was the conference for you?
Kellman: I think it has been very enlightening. I have been able to share my views and I was able to listen to the views of others. I found the views of the financial secretary from Mauritius [Ali Mansoor] rather interesting. He is of the same thinking as me.
That is, I believe, if you have something to do, do it, because in the short term people might not recognize what you are doing but it is when you get the end result that people would be able to appreciate it.
Relate that to your suggestion that we abolish overtime. Do you really think that will go down well with the average Barbadian worker?
Kellman: Yes, workers will get it because what you are doing if you remove direct taxation is increasing their disposable income. Also, you would create more opportunities for them to moonlight. Not only that, we would automatically become very competitive.
Everybody knows that because someone works overtime and you are paying them time and a half, it doesn’t mean that they are producing time and a half. Most of the time, they are probably just producing half of what they would have produced previously.
Whereas, if you allow a person to go home and come back to another employer, that person will produce more, and for a small economy like Barbados, that is what we have to move to.
I am not sure people would agree with you on that, but certainly with the Minister of Finance about to deliver his Budget, they would welcome any news of a tax ease. As a senior member of Government, tell us what can we expect.
Kellman: As you would appreciate, I am not the Finance Minister, so I cannot comment on that, but what I will say is that we are cognizant of what is happening.
We have recognized that we had to ensure that we met certain mandates, internal and external, and I believe we have done a good job. I believe we have been able to show growth in the economy and that is the most important thing.
Sounds like there will definitely be some good news this week and that we can look forward to the return of the tax-free entertainment and travel allowances?
Kellman: Well, again, that is a matter for the Minister of Finance, but what I will say is that we are a caring Government and we understand what the people have been saying and we will respond to them.
Time is running out on you, though, in terms of response. You came into the Cabinet more than halfway through your administration’s five-year term. Are you satisfied with your performance so far?
Kellman: I would have to say that the people I deal with seem to be happy; so if they are happy, I am happy.
It is a pity then that late Prime Minister David Thompson didn’t have you in his Cabinet.
Kellman: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I keep saying to people that every Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition has a right, and if they decide that they don’t want [certain] people, nobody should question them on that.
So if Mr Thompson felt I was better as Ambassador to CARICOM, well, so be it! Recognizing that I was the most senior politician after him, he probably felt that that was the place for me.
One thing you don’t do is to bellyache about anything you have been given. [But] every time you give me a hot potato, I will ensure that that hot potato means something.
Which job do you prefer, though? Being an ambassador or Cabinet minister?
Kellman: Well, put it this way, I have gained from both. But as it stands right now, I believe that I can help my country more as a Cabinet minister, although I was able to make some connections and solve some problems [as ambassador] without a lot of fanfare.
Kellman: One of the things I was able to do was to develop a very good relationship with the past prime minister of Trinidad and his minister of foreign affairs, so much so that the past PS [permanent secretary] used to say she couldn’t understand how I could get this relationship (chuckle).
You mean with Patrick Manning?
Kellman: (Nodding his head) Patrick Manning. We had a very close relationship. A lot of people didn’t know. It was not something that was publicized but fellows would tell you that we had a very good relationship.
So why didn’t you get him to sign off on the fishing agreement with Barbados?
Kellman: You see, a lot of people talk about a fishing agreement but those people who were talking about a fishing agreement, were political and did not study the issue. What our fishermen need is the right to fish and, as I said to them at the time, if I am going to sign a fishing agreement, it must be as beneficial to the Trinidadians as it is for our fishermen.
One has to be careful! I heard a previous minister say that fishermen should be allowed to go into Trinidad and just fish. I was always worried about that statement because take it to its logical conclusion: if we can go after the flying fish, then Trinidadians, by right, should be able to come after the oil.
That is why I say ‘yes, fishing agreement, provided you are willing to [give] something in return’ . . . . There has to be a relationship and it has to be two-way.
So as CARICOM Ambassador, you weren’t pushing for an agreement then?
Kellman: I wouldn’t say that I was not pushing for an agreement, but I was not pushing for an agreement the way people wanted that agreement. I had to look at the bigger picture because even though there might be some people who are just looking at flying fish, I could not look at flying fish, I could not sell out Barbados.
But did Trinidad raise the question of the oil with you explicitly?
Kellman: Well, indirectly. But I could pick up sometimes, speaking to some people, that they were very interested in our oil reserves.
So you are saying the issue is far more complicated than people think.
Kellman: Of course, it is more complicated and what made it worse is when we went to the [Law Of The Sea] Tribunal, we told Barbadians it [the dispute] was about fish.
Coming after that, one had to be very careful because clearly you knew, it wasn’t just fish, it was fish and oil. So I would have been ignorant to believe that I could just go and talk flying fish without recognizing that there was another issue.
Are we ever going to have a fishing agreement, given there may be things Trinidad might want that we don’t want to give up and vice versa?
Kellman: Well, not only that. Let me say this too. You are talking about something that is migratory and you cannot go and tie down a country to something that you do not know if it is in your water while you are signing.
The question remains: will we ever have a fishing agreement?
Kellman: Well, that is not for me to decide, I am not there, but what I would have sought, what I always wanted and what I got was the right of the fishermen to fish.
You know people would ignore this but during my three years or so, no one was arrested but the boats were fishing. You see, sometimes you can achieve what you want without necessarily going on the dotted line.
But you had an understanding with Prime Minister Manning?
Kellman: In my opinion, we had an understanding and I felt at the time that Prime Minister Manning or his minister of foreign affairs would not have interfered with our fishermen once I was around.
So Bobby Morris [the new CARICOM Ambassador] should seek a similar gentlemen’s agreement?
Kellman: Well, it depends on his approach to matters. If he feels within himself that that is not the right approach, he needs not worry about how I operated because, as people would appreciate, I tend to look at things differently to others and I do not try to tie people down to my approaches.
Mr Kellman, the fishing agreement is just one of the issues that have come up in terms of the performance of your Democratic Labour Party Government, granted such an agreement was just as elusive when the Barbados Labour Party was in power. But how do you respond to those who say generally, your Government is too slow to act and the recent CADRES poll which suggested that its back is now against the wall?
Kellman: It is good to use polls as indicators but I have been around long enough with polls and I have also been a victim of polls.
What do you mean? Was there a poll that showed you losing in St Lucy?
Kellman: No, no, no. There were certain positive things about me in a poll that were not shown . . . . I will use a poll as an indicator and not as a fact.
You have to understand that everybody will not like everybody and everybody will not put questions the way they need to be put because they figure the answer might come back to the benefit of somebody they might not like. So I am not worried about the polls. But I know on the ground what I am hearing.
You are speaking specifically about your constituency or generally?
Kellman: Generally. I keep telling people that pollsters might not do the groundwork that I do and I know what I am hearing on the ground. I know that the boys on the block do not feel the same way that the pollsters feel. They are happy. And I will tell you this, a rastaman once said to me: “You know, Denis Kellman, you are our dog”.
I said: “Oh! How do you mean, I’m your dog.” He said: “Man, we like you real bad.” I said: “How come?” He said: “You are the only man who would stand up and tell us when we are wrong and we admire you for that. The others would come and try to trick us.”
I am telling you, people can [recognize] genuine people. They know when they are not saying things just to make them happy. That is one of the things I am proud about my leader [Freundel Stuart]. He will not come out and put bluff in front of you.
Also, he is not a leader who will make you believe that you are not at a roundtable . . . . He will not sit in a chair and then all his ministers have to fall down in front of his feet. He allows all of his ministers to have an equal opportunity, not only at the roundtable but in their individual ministries.
So why is there still this perception of inertia in the Government?
Kellman: The problem in Barbados is that we have allowed too many leaders to dominate and behave like if they are kings and lords. All roads lead to them and we allow that system to undermine our ministers.
In the present system under Freundel Stuart, the reverse is happening but because it is [not what is customary], people cannot appreciate it.
For example, when people make the comment to me that he is not talking, I say: “Tell me something, why is it I have never heard you say he should talk about something in my ministry, which in my opinion is the most important ministry because it is the ministry that will create the growth?”
But doesn’t the Prime Minister have a responsibility to address the major issues of the day even if as you are saying the line ministers should be allowed to do their jobs?
For instance, when the hoteliers say they want to meet with the Prime Minister to discuss the critical state of the sector, shouldn’t he give them a hearing?
Kellman: What I will say to you is, that is true, provided they would have had those critical issues and they would have gone to the Minister of Tourism and he could not solve them. But I am not getting from them that they have spoken to the minister and he did not solve them.
It is for them first to go to the line minister with their problems.
If it is an issue of money, then go to the Minister of Finance and if he [the tourism minister] doesn’t get the hearing of the Minister of Finance, bring it to Cabinet. That is where the decision would be made by the Prime Minister. What a lot of people do not understand [is], that is what is to be done on Thursdays. Those problems should be brought to Cabinet.
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