ONLY HUMAN: Stuart’s big test
FROM TODAY, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will be the main focus of Barbadians, as the era of the late Prime Minister David Thompson will close with his internment at the St John Parish Church this afternoon.From this day onward, Stuart’s every word, every action and inaction will be scrutinised and responded to, both positively and negatively.In other words, notwithstanding his appointment on October 23, it is from today that many people here regard Stuart as ‘the man’.Though his job of Prime Minister carries awesome responsibility in itself, Stuart will be further burdened by the expectations of many Barbadians that he will fulfil the most significant promises made by Thompson, which catapulted their Democratic Labour Party into power in January 2008.This task will not be easy as already Stuart has a number of immediate but difficult priorities to tackle. These include reversing the slide in the economy, minimising job losses, keeping down food price hikes, maintaining social and welfare services and programmes to at least the current level, and creating an environment for more investment opportunities here to generate new economic growth. Though all of these hot potatoes were known to Stuart coming into his top job, juggling them successfully was always going to be how he would be judged.Since that fateful October 23, Stuart has been tossed another hot spud to manage, but this one was totally unexpected. Tropical Storm Tomas made an unwelcome visit and wrought widespread damage last weekend. How his regime administers this could very well determine the public’s perception of his effectiveness or ineffectiveness as a leader and, ultimately, his longevity as Prime Minister.Speaking upAs if recognising this, Stuart has thrown himself into this new challenge and is already making the right sounds. To the preliminary reports that more than 1 000 houses had sustained serious damage here as a result of Tomas’ battering, Stuart said on Monday that he envisaged Government would have to assist homeowners to get back on their feet.“Obviously there is going to be some outlay in respect of trying to get the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation on the road.“We are going to have to do some spending. We do not want people’s lives to be in a state of dislocation indefinitely, so we have to try with swiftness to . . . get things back together,” he said.To several of those people of minimal financial means trying to get back on their feet and whose house was not insured, this is a lifeline that they will hold on to. To Government’s credit this already seems to have taken effect as it was announced yesterday that the National Housing Corporation’s Rapid Response Unit would be moving to repair the worse affected houses.Thankfully, Stuart will have an initial $17 million cheque from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility payout to islands affected by Tomas to assist in these efforts.Buck stops with PM Presuming that immediate available funds will not be an inhibiting factor to quickly get on with the job of reconstruction, then it is up to the Prime Minister and his Government to ensure such work is fast-tracked, and continues to be treated as a priority until the vast majority have been assisted. He should remember that even more than a year after Hurricane Ivan brushed us in 2004, some of the damaged houses had still ot been repaired. Stuart cannot make his mistake.If he needs any example of the impact swift response to Mother Nature’s havoc can bring, the Prime Minister only needs to cast his mind back to the two by-elections in 1984.His party’s Sybil Leacock won the first by-election in St Peter to replace late Speaker of the House of Assembly, Burton Hinds. She beat debutant Owen Arthur by a single vote that July.The Supreme Court nullified this outcome and another by-election was set for November. But weeks before it was time to vote again, a flood damaged several homes in Speightstown. The ruling Tom Adams Government moved swiftly to alleviate the suffering of the people and to repair their homes. When the poll was held, Arthur won handsomely.With a by-election in St John now due, and with the option of calling early general elections on the table as well, Stuart should learn from this and ensure he gets those homes damaged by Tomas repaired efficiently and effectively.