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ONLY HUMAN: The end of an era?

Sanka Price

ONLY HUMAN: The end  of an era?

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WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT of Kingsland, Christ Church, as the site for a new general hospital to replace the ageing Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), were Barbadians being quietly told that the David Thompson era is over?
We ask because this is the third reversal of a policy position that was once endorsed by the late Prime Minister – the other two being the repealing of legislation to enable affected Government pensioners to continue to enjoy two pensions, and Barbados’ intention to fully implement the six-month entry for CARICOM nationals.
Thompson was strident on these issues and was on record opposing each.
Rescue plan
In the case of the QEH, prior to Thompson’s Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) election to office in January 2008, it was committed to a “Rescue The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Plan” which focused on training, provision of more beds and equipment, and expansion of essential services like the Accident & Emergency Department.
“The DLP believes there is no point in building a 21st century facility with 19th century attitudes,” said the party’s 2008 manifesto Pathways To Progress.
Seven months after taking office, however, then Minister of Health Dr David Estwick said that the Government was “going ahead with plans for a new hospital, without a doubt”, adding that “very, very soon” Cabinet would decide on where the new hospital would be built.
“We have a 1959 plant in terms of its infrastructure,” Estwick said. “That cannot carry medicine in 2009.”
He revealed that Government would kickstart financing for the new hospital by selling its shares in the Insurance Corporation of Barbados (ICB) and the Barbados National Bank (BNB) to raise $200 million, but was already looking to other sources for funds.
A few days later, Thompson dismissed Estwick’s plans, saying that there would be no new QEH. Rather, the facility would be expanded at its present Martindale’s Road, Bridgetown site at a cost of $400 million.
Thompson did confirm that the monies for the QEH’s refurbishment would come from the sale of ICB and BNB shares.
No further talk
Three months later Estwick was removed as Minister of Health and no further talk was heard about a new hospital until last year – a year after Thompson’s death. That talk took on realistic significance when Minister of Health Donville Inniss revealed a site for the hospital.
One wonders if the sale of Government’s BNB and ICB shares for financing this new hospital, as enunciated by Estwick and Thompson, will be used to get the project off the ground.
The one hiccup Government may have here is that with the present downturn in the market, getting the estimated $200 million for the shares, as was initially anticipated, could be difficult.
The second reversal involves Government’s decision to enforce the legislation that stipulated civil servants who retired after 1975 should only receive one pension. The DLP promised to get rid of this law so that post-1975 retirees would be treated the same way as pre-1975 ones, and get two pensions. The party even put the promise in writing in its 2008 General Election manifesto on Page 17:
The Democratic Labour Party is committed to caring for all Barbadians in their senior years.
A new DLP Government will . . . repeal the legislation that discriminates between Government pensioners retiring before 1975 and those after in relation to their Government pension and NIS pension.
Defended direction
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler defended Government’s new direction last week on the Voice Of Barbados radio call-in programme Getting Down To Brass Tacks by explaining that it would be too costly, and legally too complex, to go ahead with this idea.
As Sinckler did not present statistics to back up his assertion, he left himself open to the charge that his statement was a “damage control” response to Opposition MP Mia Mottley’s call to allow the two pensions to stand.
The third rejection of Thompson’s policies came when Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said his administration was looking to give the automatic six-month stay full effect, as agreed to back in 2007 by the then Owen Arthur Government.
Thompson’s view on this was encapsulated in his often said statement: “Ever so welcome, wait for a call.” And under his leadership there was a hardening of Barbados’ immigration policy which led to criticism from other countries, particularly Guyana.
Now Stuart is seeking to honour this five-year-old pledge less than one month after his Government announced incentives in the June 26 Budget to encourage high net worth individuals to reside here.
Isn’t it ironic that 25 years after Thompson was first elected to Parliament – and the first time his name will not be on a ballot for a general election since 1991 – some of the ideas he was instrumental in promoting are being swept aside? That’s why we ask: is the David Thompson era dead and buried?  
•?Sanka Price is the SATURDAY SUN Editor. Email him at sankaprice