Sinckler: The Big Interview
Last weekend the SUNDAY SUN was handed a copy of a letter prepared on behalf of 11 Democratic Labour Party MPs, which called for “an urgent audience” with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. Its publication, along with the names and faces of the Eager Eleven, has set off a political firestorm in the country.
Today, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, one of the MPs listed among that group, speaks to the issue of the letter. He also clears the air on his personal leadership ambitions and insists he is not interested in Stuart’s job.
He spoke to Editor-In-Chief Kaymar Jordan.
It has been a week of high drama with allegations and legal letters flying left, right and centre. First of all, can you confirm that there was indeed a letter drafted on behalf of Government MPs who were seeking an “urgent audience” with the Prime Minister to discuss issues of leadership?
SINCKLER: Yes, I can confirm that a draft letter exists; but let me put it in context. For some period of time, not too long, some members of the party, including MPs, were a little concerned about the party’s level of public engagement on issues affecting the country.
I suspect that those feelings reached a peak after the situation with the fishermen who were recently held in Trinidad. It was generally felt that the Government itself should have been a lot more aggressive and forthright in representing the interests of Barbadians on that issue.
So that is reason enough to demand an “urgent” audience with a Prime Minister whom you meet at least once a week in Cabinet?
SINCKLER: There were other issues, predominantly to do with style rather than substance. In other words, not policy differences of any fundamental nature, because I think we are all agreed on policy, but more about issues of communication.
I know some people used to make the criticism about [late Prime Minister] David Thompson that his [engagements with the public] were too calculated. And perhaps there is a general public perception that the party or even the current Prime Minister should fit into that vein.
Of course, no two individuals are alike, and it is
a little unreasonable to judge effectiveness based on some prototype. But one thing that we as a party always say is that we never want to repeat what happened from 1991 to 1994 when we went through
a similar kind of thing [to what obtains now]: difficult economy, tough circumstances, stringent measures, and you have a situation developing where you disengage yourself from the public too much.
So who is the mastermind of the so-called Eager Eleven?
SINCKLER: Truthfully, there was no real mastermind. There were a series of informal chats, more like post-meeting discussions around a drink.
So it did not originate with anyone person. It didn’t originate with me; but, of course, some people put me at the centre of it, but I am not somebody who runs from responsibility.
I take responsibility for having worked with members to look at the issue. In fact, I specifically had a chat with both John [Boyce] and Ronald [Jones] as two of the more senior people (age-wise and otherwise) about what I felt was a situation that needed to be handled so that it wouldn’t be distorted by other interests, not necessarily favourable to the interest of the party.
And I don’t mean the NATION.
But why not just call up the Prime Minister and ask for a meeting? Your office in the Ministry of Finance is around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Office. Why the need to put your demand in writing?
SINCKLER: No, that’s not how you do it. Some of us felt, as I said, that both Ronald and John [Jones acting Prime Minister and Boyce, Leader of Government Business, and both senior vice-presidents of the party) should be asked to raise the possibility of a meeting with the PM.
So a request for a meeting informally was done through John – and I believe Minister Jones might also have done so.
The other way was to do an internal formal letter to the Prime Minister as a way to get that meeting formally organized. The draft was not canvassed among all of the members of your Eager Eleven, as you put it. In fact, only about two or three people had actually seen the draft before it was unfortunately leaked to THE NATION.
I think for the benefit of the public and on the newspaper’s behalf, I should explain that after receiving the draft, we were assured by some of the architects – whose names we have agreed not to mention at this stage – that the final copy had been dispatched to the Prime Minister, which is what we reported last Sunday.
SINCKLER: Well, that might have been a piece of unfortunate and despicable mischief because that was not true; but you know people have a way of doing these things for their own benefit or for whom they feel it may be of benefit. However, you can’t blame a newspaper if a letter appears before you such as this and it is published.
The ironic thing is that if you give a careful read of the unfinished draft, which you published, it affixes no blame to anyone; it issues no ultimatum to anyone; and it does not impugn anybody’s character. It simply requests a meeting.
The letter was drafted and sent to me personally.
I looked at it and passed it on to one or two other people. I didn’t have an issue with it because fundamentally I didn’t see it as a crime. I didn’t see it as committing any act of heresy, because the language of the draft was very clear.
It said to discuss our leadership; so therefore it was not an issue of the Prime Minister and his leadership per say. It was the leadership of everybody, both in the party and Government context.
But by sequence that was Friday evening. Saturday morning early some of us had our (constituency) Christmas parties and we went off doing our stuff, and therefore the letter was not distributed to other members of the parliamentary group who may have been interested in having that meeting.
By late Saturday evening, around eight, nine o’clock, the Prime Minister had sent word to Minister Boyce that he was going to meet with a representative group and I believe that meeting took place on the Sunday.
So therefore by that time there was no need then for a letter because the meeting had taken place and our certain confidence was that those people who attended would have been able to inform us of what transpired.
Why the blatant denials then and all the legal threats?
SINCKLER: People have different ways of reacting to things. I mean people are human beings. If you, one, do not know that a letter exists, or, two, did not sign or review it or sanction it, then that’s understandable.
It’s a natural reaction.
That being said, the 11 people listed, namely yourself, Ronald Jones, Dr David Estwick, Adriel Brathwaite, Donville Inniss, John Boyce, Michael Lashley, Stephen Lashley, Mara Thompson, James Paul and Hamilton Lashley, all shared the same “grave concerns” and wanted them addressed, right?
SINCKLER: Yes, but so too did other members of the party generally, and the public. Obviously, some persons were more stringent in their views than others, and in that environment you had to make sure that those who had more stringent views were not necessarily carrying those views too far and wide, for fear that they may become distorted, as has happened.
So the Prime Minister would have been made aware, even if not by letter, that there were some MPs who had some concerns that they wanted to discuss with him?
SINCKLER: I don’t know if he would have known in terms of numbers, but he knew that there were some members who wanted to meet with him.
So when the letter speaks of “charting a path forward for the retention of our party in Government”, this is not another way of indicating to Stuart that his neck is on the block?
SINCKLER: I mean nothing could be farther from the truth. That was not even remotely associated with what was going on. I got a call from another newspaper saying: “We understand you were at Government House with 14 people.” And I told the reporter that that was foolishness. I was in town observing the Duty-Free Shopping Day.
You are saying that that’s not true? We had also heard that this matter went before Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands before he left office at the end of October.
SINCKLER: Absolute rubbish! That is something for the blogosphere. First of all, anybody who understands the Barbados Constitution understands that 14 or no number could turn up at Government House and say you want to get rid of a Prime Minister. You don’t get rid of a Prime Minister so. The Constitution provides very specific ways for how a Prime Minister is removed from office.
So the 11 MPs were eager to meet with the Prime Minister simply to have a discussion?
SINCKLER: Well, you say eager; I think some of us wanted to meet.
On the surface it sounds like a simple ask, but when you have 11 of 21 MPs, which is a majority, it seems to me you are sending a much stronger message to the Prime Minister than let’s meet and talk.
SINCKLER: No, but the Prime Minister chairs Cabinet. He is chairman of the parliamentary group. If a majority or whoever wants to send a strong message, you can send a strong message in many ways. Asking a meeting I don’t think is a fundamentally strong way.
So there was never any plan to cut the Prime Minister’s neck off to have him replaced?
SINCKLER: Absolute rubbish!
To put you in his place?
SINCKLER: Absolute rubbish! That was certainly not my intent and I didn’t get that that was the intent of any of the members who had expressed a desire to meet with the Prime Minister on the issues.
The only reason this is being discussed is because the draft letter ended up in the newspaper. Otherwise, all the rest would be just conjecture. Unfortunately,
I have had to endure quite a lot of it because people seem to think I have this overwhelming, crazy desire to be Prime Minister of Barbados.
Well, don’t you?
SINCKLER: Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Was it just coincidence then that the draft letter from your group arrived on my desk at the same time as a poll, done six months ago, in four constituencies which strongly suggested that you were the best man, based on popularity, charisma, to lead to the Democratic Labour Party into the next elections?
SINCKLER: Well I don’t know if it was coincidence or not, but if I had a problem with the Prime Minister and his leadership I would not be in his Cabinet. I would move on. People have their favourites in politics. This is nothing new. People liked Richie Haynes; somebody else liked Branford Taitt; Mr Barrow had his clan of people, extensive as it was. People liked Sandiford, others preferred Rameses Caddle.
For example, there were five, six or seven different people in a previous Democratic Labour Party Government who all had qualities that could elevate them to the level of Prime Minister. But because somebody says I like Chris Sinckler more than I like Freundel Stuart, that doesn’t mean anything.
It is what the overall country, the party and the people who are responsible for selecting a Prime Minister want. That is what really matters. A poll doesn’t matter. A poll is just a snapshot. A poll might say today that we prefer Mia Mottley over Owen Arthur, and six months from now that we prefer Arthur over Mottley.
So you can’t get all giddy-headed. I did an interview earlier with one of your reporters – Sanka Price – and I indicated to him that I had 150 per cent confidence in Mr Stuart’s leadership.
You still have that today?
SINCKLER: Still have it. There is one Prime Minister at a time! And there is one leader of the DLP at a time. Not two and three, and that is who it is. I am the only person in the Cabinet left that was upfront in the 1991 to 1994 experience with Mr Sandiford as his aide. Having gone through that experience, I would have to be a total nut to go back through that again. In fact, let me put it in these very clear terms that I have no interest, none whatsoever, from where I sit now, in being Prime Minister of Barbados. None!
Can you repeat that?
SINCKLER: I have no interest. None! You can publish that! Absolutely none! Even if Mr Stuart, God forbid (let me knock on wood), if something were to happen to him and he had to move on or step down or whatever, and we hope that that is not the case, I will not be interested in putting my name in any race for any Prime Ministership, period! Now or in the foreseeable future!
Is that a position you have always held or one that you have recently come to?
SINCKLER: No, it is a position that I have held for some time and you know people tell you: “Oh, you know you would be a good Prime Minister!” But I am not motivated by office, Kaymar. When we were voted out of office in 1994, I had spent most of my working life in office working with Prime Minister Sandiford so that was all I knew, and I felt crestfallen that we were out of Government. But then I went on to have an entirely different life in the NGO sector. Did reasonably well for myself and rose to be a global leader in civil society. Not Caribbean, not Barbadian but global, working with institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the UN, all across the world.
It said to me that you can make a contribution to the development of society without being in politics.
Are you concerned though that the Prime Minister is getting ready to fire some people?
SINCKLER: That’s within the Prime Minister’s purview. I would be surprised, but then again nothing in politics surprises me. But I think it would be unfortunate if that were to occur. If a whole lot of unfounded public speculation were to lead to that,
I don’t think that would be helpful.
What if he fires you?
SINCKLER: You are appointed at the privilege and pleasure of the Prime Minister under the Constitution. He can appoint you and he can disappoint you. The point I am making though, is that you don’t have to have a title of minister to make your contribution (to society). I am hoping that by putting this on the record that those who feel that I am after some office and I spend all of my waking hours thinking about how to unseat this person or the other, or cause confusion that would lead to that, I really hope that they would stand down.
I know you have already put strongly your position that you are not interested in the post of Prime Minister, but could you be convinced by your colleagues to change your mind, say if the majority of them pledged their support to you?
SINCKLER: I would politely decline.
That goes for the campaign for 2013 and after 2013?