I waited for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to announce the changes to which he alluded just seconds before naming his Cabinet last Wednesday night and was disappointed to see that all he did was to take care of his two Denises.
Granted, this in itself was important but not of the essence to make it the climax of a public statement that would have included much-anticipated and demanded “changes”.
The Prime Minister said in his announcement that politics was not a “spectator sport” and that its implications were far too serious to be part and parcel of the “frivolity” that accompanies any likening of politics to entertainment. And I took him seriously, but clearly Stuart himself was not serious about his so-called Cabinet changes – fortunately, he doesn’t use the word “reshuffle” – which have merely settled the uncertainty surrounding Denis Lowe and Denis Kellman.
All Stuart has done is to give back to Lowe the portfolios of Environment and Drainage, which does not constitute a change; he has also finally given Kellman a well deserved ministry – of Industry and Small Business Development and Rural Development – and lessened the responsibilities of Dr David Estwick, who now holds the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, and Water Resource Management. Previously, Estwick also held Kellman’s portfolios.
Congrats to Kellman!
In essence, though, Stuart has retained the Cabinet reshuffled by the late Prime Minister David Thompson eight months ago, showing that he has confidence in the work of the team he was given, notably Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler, who was seen as the late leader’s anointed successor.
But I insist that Stuart made sport with these adjustments, starting with his own name and ministry, and then immediately calling Estwick. Like many Barbadians, I jumped, expecting as usual that the name following the leader would either be the Deputy Prime Minister or Minister of Finance.
Boy, was I wrong!
What followed was pure anticlimax and It would have been laughable if he didn’t seem so grave, as he announced the name of his Minister of Finance eighth – as if this is now the position given to such an important minister, whether a country is prospering or reeling from the shocks of a global recession.
Why would he call the Minister of Agriculture second to himself, primus inter pares (first among equals)? Could Estwick be “secundus” then? Could it be that the Prime Minister’s vision for economic growth will be led by agriculture and its potential to rebuild the economy with an assault on the high prices of local and imported food, on predial larceny and other woes attendant to this sector?
Just as important is the question: can Barbados afford an increase in its Cabinet – even if by one – for the sake of solving the Denises dilemma?
As for the other ministries, I can only guess at the reasons. Clearly, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Maxine McClean has been forgiven for her irresponsible reaction that inflamed the Shanique Myrie case, while Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, Steve Blackett and a few others are being given the opportunity to grow in their relatively new ministries.
A minister worthy of note is Patrick Todd. The commendable plan for urban renewal fits perfectly alongside Todd, who is not only Minister of State in the Ministry of Housing but is also the representative for the City, where much of the housing rehabilitation is needed. It’s a dream come true for Todd, who should approach this assignment with almost messianic fervour.
While I had no problem with the Prime Minister’s overall statement, coming as it does on the eve of his trip to China and following much criticism for his sudden exit to climate change conferences in Europe last month, I was a bit taken aback by his 1975 quotation from National Hero Errol Walton Barrow.
Quoting the Father of Nationhood is to be encouraged by any Barbadian, but why quote a crisis speech that preceded by months a heavy loss to the Barbados Labour Party in 1976?
Prime Minister Stuart could have been a bit more creative, or is he presaging another defeat?
The gem of Stuart’s speech, to me, was that he took listeners into his confidence for the first time. He levelled with them on the economy, senseless violence among youths and the inherent inequity of the many non-nationals who have made Barbados their home and have delivered a major contribution over the years but still suffer the indignity of not being citizens and being, therefore, lumped with those who have recently come to these shores and overstayed their welcome.
Asking Barbadians to work with his team in the face of a slowing United States economy and rising oil prices, he promised “we will not disappoint you”.
Some will decry his speech for all kinds of reasons; especially since rumours were rife about an intended “Cabinet coup” during his last trip. Whether they were true or not, the Prime Minister is correct in coming to his people at this time when the economy is not recovering as quickly as we had hoped and as the Opposition shows signs of reuniting and ultimately strengthening.
Stuart can take no chances and has therefore shown the public a united front. Most importantly, he has signalled who is in charge.