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Stuart’s stewardship under review


Albert Brandford

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There has been no changing of the guard in Barbados. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is still the Hon. David Thompson. He is on leave and I am acting as Prime Minister as I have done on numerous occasions since January 2008. – Acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart at the annual conference of the ruling Democratic Labour Party, Sunday, August 22, 2010.
 
THE INITIAL report suggested that Prime Minister David Thompson would be on sick leave for two months until the end of August.
By the time the resolution was laid in Parliament, however, the House of Assembly was informed that the leave would be extended to mid-September.
Unexpectedly, the Prime Minister announced last Monday that he was back in charge and feeling fine, even though he still has health challenges.
If the Prime Minister’s health is the primary concern, then why would he not take the additional two weeks’ leave to feel even finer?
Instead, the earlier than expected return seems to suggest that time is more important than anything else.
What else could be so urgent as to require an earlier than planned return?
In his Press conference before going on leave, Thompson was at pains to tell acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that he had a free hand to make decisions he deemed necessary “to keep the social and economic ship of state on an even keel”.
Perhaps an analysis of the decision-making on Stuart’s part over the last two months may lead to an understanding of Thompson’s early return.
In response to the need to hear a Government voice on the condition of the economy, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Senator Darcy Boyce, was chosen to hold a Press conference.
 By all accounts, it was not an impressive performance.
Further, a legal argument was made by constitutional lawyer and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Ezra Alleyne that the lead spokesman on financial matters should come from the House since members of the Senate are not permitted to debate money bills.
Criticism
 The argument was potent especially since the criticism was coming from the Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley.    
For a man who has openly attempted to reduce economics to a set of numbers with no relevance to the human condition, the time was opportune for Stuart to demonstrate that what he chooses to describe as the worst economic and financial crisis in 100 years (and not yet as a recession!) has not derailed the social programme of the DLP administration.
 Instead, the Acting Prime Minister avoided taking the responsibility; and the Minister of Economic Affairs Dr David Estwick was not seen a worthy alternative.
Notwithstanding the mandate given by the substantive Prime Minister with respect to having the freedom to make decisions, the Acting Prime Minister used every occasion to remind his audience that he was only the Acting Minister of Finance.
Perhaps it is a characteristic of his not to be intrusive even when he is invited to be, except in very special circumstances.
Some may interpret this lack of action as an attempt to not be held responsible for major decisions of the Thompson administration which in recent weeks has had to be on the defensive on matters relating to housing, the economy and internal rumblings with respect to its leadership.
In a political environment where the Prime Minister is primus inter pares, it is expected that in periods of attack that he would be the first line of defence.
 It is clearly not possible to describe Stuart’s action as consistent with such expectations.
Apparently, there are some major decisions, other than in housing, that have not conformed to the principles of dividing the fatted calf among loyalists first and foremost.
It has not gone unnoticed that in restoring the batting order, Prime Minister Thompson did not explicitly state that Freundel Stuart would resume his position of Deputy Prime Minister.
 Perhaps that it was a Freudian slip.
Around politics
I do not profess to read minds, but I have been around politics long enough to know that what politicians do not say is as important as what they do say especially when they are addressing matters of an internal party nature.
Whatever the matters affecting the Thompson administration, they are apparently significant enough to warrant putting urgency above his health challenges.
This action leads one to wonder about the nature of the Prime Minister’s health.
No one wants to be uncharitable to the Prime Minister or insensitive to his feelings and those of his family at this distressing moment in their lives, but surely if he has recovered enough to resume his responsibilities, then he ought to be in a condition to hold a Press conference and be seen in public.
Leaves one to wonder
 The failure to play such a public relations stroke at this early stage leaves one to wonder about the state of his reported recovery.
His boldness, however, may only be reserved for the repositioning of his batting order and attempting to influence the future leadership of the Democratic Labour Party.
Several individuals would have declared their loyalties in the expectation that the current administration might have been assured at least two terms in office. In the circumstances, such assurances have to be reassessed as the status quo can no longer be guaranteed, if change is inevitable.
Protection for the loyalists and maintenance of the status quo are going to be two major factors in determining any new pecking order and team of advisers.
It would therefore not be surprising to hear some significant changes being made to Team DLP – the third Cabinet reshuffle, perhaps?
 In the meantime, it is hoped that whatever changes are made are also in the interest of the country as it does appear as though the country’s problems are not being addressed.
There could well be another period of severe political instability in the ruling Democratic Labour Party if the decision-making that is obviously needed is done in a way that threatens the political careers of the least favoured.
Ultimately, the country has to come first and no one can deny that it currently needs leadership.
These are trying times which require an openness that, frankly speaking, is not in evidence.
This makes the next few weeks a period of immense political interest as information becomes more available and the future becomes less uncertain.

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