Poll bang on
The recent CADRES poll has indicated a national swing in favour of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), which was said to be enjoying 31 per cent popular support compared to the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) with 26 per cent.
In an interview yesterday, Opposition Leader Owen Arthur spoke to Associate Managing Editor Tim Slinger about the results of the poll and the readiness of both major political parties for the next general election. Arthur, who is an economist, also responded to recent statements by the Central Bank of Barbados Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell about the performance of the Barbados economy.
First of all Mr Arthur, what’s your view of the CADRES poll?
Arthur: I think the poll generally and accurately reflects the sentiments that are being expressed all across Barbados.
The people of Barbados generally wish to see an election called. They are very greatly concerned and unhappy with the drift and decline taking place in the country and I believe they are very deeply disgusted with the shambles now taking place in Government, and [disappointed] in the ability of the Government to properly manage, not only the economy but the general affairs of the country.
We [BLP] are obviously pleased to have a poll that is favourable. We also understand as a party with over 70 years of experience that an election is about winning boxes and winning individual constituencies, and not just about winning [opinion] polls. Therefore, our efforts will be engrossed in detailed planning for the next election, putting in place all the arrangements that would enable us to be ready for an election whenever an election is called.
There are a number of things we have to do to in order to able to contest an election, and we are just simply doing that.
What surprised you most about the poll results?
Arthur: The most staggering statistic, I believe, is the result for Prime Minister [Freundel] Stuart. Mr Stuart has now been the Prime Minister of Barbados [since 2010] and to get a standard of 9.9 per cent is really to suggest that he is being dismissed by the public.
In fact, I will put it this way. The only race in which a person used to be able to be comforted by the result of a 9.9 was in a 100-metre dash. Mr [Usain] Bolt has now put that to rest.
This is not only a general election, but an election to determine leadership. The Democratic Labour Party will have a major issue in this campaign because the public, like the members of the DLP, sees Mr Stuart as a liability and it is a challenge that has to be addressed.
This past week many were taken by surprise when Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick publicly vented his anger and frustration over the allocation of funds for his ministry. What are your comments about the way he has thrown down the gauntlet to Government?
Arthur: The awesome authority and power a Prime Minister of Barbados exercises is that he and he alone chooses a Cabinet in his own discretion. He doesn’t have to refer any of those appointments to anybody, and he and he alone, in his sole discretion, can dismiss members of the Cabinet.
It is clear now that we have bedlam and shambles in the Democratic Labour Party Cabinet.
After threatening earlier that ‘heads were going to roll’ and heads did not roll, I think that Cabinet colleagues feel that Mr Stuart does not know how to exercise that one awesome power: to exercise the authority of either having people in or out of his Cabinet.
I would think that they no longer fear him or respect him . . . . I would want to say that there is no member of a Cabinet that I led who would want to trespass so dangerously on discipline to make a statement like that in the public domain.
In terms of your party’s own showing in the polls, one of the issues of concern is whether the BLP is unified, given recent rumblings between yourself and former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley. Has there really been healing or is it just about putting on a public show?
Arthur: Again, I must state for the record that I have no dispute with Mia Mottley. At our annual conference I made the point that I am not in any rivalry with anybody within the Barbados Labour Party for anything.
I am in Barbados now and I was supposed to be in New York to attend a fund-raiser for the Barbados Labour Party and a number of other activities. Miss Mottley is in New York working as a faithful member of the Barbados Labour Party in my place.
Miss Mottley is going to give the main reply in the Budget Debate this year. When this issue with Miss Mottley first arose, I told Miss Mottley that the country and the party need her. I have done everything in my time to enable Miss Mottley’s career to be advanced.
We have had a fairly difficult period, but we have worked together, put it behind us, and you can be sure of one thing, that the Barbados Labour Party will go into the election as a united and cohesive force with Miss Mottley playing a vital role in it.
Miss Mottley is now working with us systematically in the planning of all aspects of the campaign. We had a number of meetings with the full parliamentary group and she was involved. Those who are hoping for a fracture within the Barbados Labour Party and a division between herself and me will be dissapointed. We . . . faced and fixed the Mia Mottley issue.
The CADRES poll shows Mottley’s popularity has improved. In fact, she polled 25.5 per cent compared to your 29.8 per cent for preferred choice of Prime Minister. Yet she is not your Deputy Opposition Leader. If the BLP wins the next election will you appoint two Deputy Prime Ministers?
Arthur: It would be quite improper and imprudent of me to appear as though I am seeking to choose a candidate and a deputy leader in advance of the people of Barbados saying “We are giving you a mandate”.
Quite frankly, I have always felt that the party and the country needs to have a deputy. I am not at this stage really going to give a specific answer to it.
So you are not willing to say definitively Mia Mottley at this stage?
Arthur: As I told you, I have had 28 years now in politics. I am happy to have the opportunity to be able to serve again, but I don’t have another 28 years in office and I feel that it would be for the party to choose who its future leader is going to be rather than my foisting that leader on the party; and without saying anything more, I believe that systems can be put in place if the question of who the next leader should be has to arise . . . . And I believe that both Mr Dale Marshall [the current deputy leader] and Miss Mottley know what I think of them. They are both excellent persons . . . . The party will make a correct choice in the matter.
Some political commentators have described you as over the hill and past your best. Others have suggested your quest to recapture the Government is a one-man show. What can we expect from you if there’s a BLP victory at the next general election?
Arthur: Those who might be saying it is a one-man show are in the minority when compared to those who are as saying that I am leaving too much for others to do.
I am trying to create space for more of the young people in the Barbados Labour Party, especially in Parliament, to carry on the burden. I have been in politics for 28 years, and I see myself in the context of leadership in the same way as a conductor of an orchestra whose responsibility it is to make the orchestra play in harmony – rather than a conductor who also has to be the lead player with most of the lead instruments.
Prime Minister Stuart has sought to warn you that elections will come sooner than you think. What is your expectation in terms of the date?
Arthur: We in the Barbados Labour Party do not believe that the Democratic Labour Party is going to just give up the fight and roll over and play dead. We anticipate that they will want to fully use the opportunities that office presents to be able to try to advance their electoral causes and, among the things, I would imagine that you are going to see, when the Minister of Finance comes in June with budgetary proposals, a number of things we have called for.
For example, the restoration of the [tax-free] allowances and stuff like that, not as things generally to build the economy, but things that are intended to shore up the political popularity of the Democratic Labour Party; and we are anticipating all of that . . . .
In the last election, a large number of gimmicks were put to the people. They were asked to vote for things like duty-free cars, interest-free mortgages and things of that nature – free houses.
I think the people of Barbados have come to appreciate that any political party must put forward a serious, coherent and cohesive programme for the development of the country, and we are working very hard on preparing a manifesto that can restore Barbados on a stable path.
You say restore, but the Governor of the Central Bank has told the people that Barbados’ economy is already stable. As an economist yourself, what makes you doubt Dr DeLisle Worrell’s assessment?
Arthur: The Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados seems to think that it is his role to project the Government in the best possible light or to be an apologist for the Government.
The people have to have a confidence in the person holding positions in public trust and that confidence must come from their being able to believe what is being said. Ordinary people know that their own circumstances are not stable and that they are faced with tremendous troubles.
Enterprise in Barbados is facing tremendous trouble . . . . The main sectors of Barbados’ economy, especially tourism and international business, are not stable.
In the case of tourism, some of our major enterprises are closing. In the international business sector we heard about 12 companies have left already and 12 more are contemplating doing the same.
Dr Worrell goes on record as saying that things are stable; the public is saying that all is not clear . . . . What he wants to say is that our economy is like someone who has fallen into a well and has stopped falling.