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PURELY POLITICAL: Desperate and dangerous

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Desperate and  dangerous

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FEW PEOPLE THAT I know can recall a post-Independence Government in Barbados which has been at greater war with itself than this current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
From the deeply disappointed “Mayor of St Lucy” – only accepted into the Cabinet after the passing of his nemesis – through the “Eager Eleven” – who could not ask the chairman of Cabinet to mend his ways while in Cabinet, but did so through a no-confidence letter – to today’s rambunctious “Pit bull from St Philip” who believes he should be Minister of Finance by experience, intellect, training and common sense.
And it seems that the executive, unable to find consensus outside of the Cabinet Office (where the doctrine of collective responsibility rules), turns upon itself in public (led by the Prime Minister who appears to contradict almost every utterance by his ministers, especially of finance).
But more recently, it has taken the desperate and dangerous turn of threatening legitimate critics with the possible use of the controversial Public Order Act (1970).
A little easy
Now, I would hardly be discomfited by any action taken (or not taken) by the Prime Minister in regard to the recalcitrant Minister of Finance whether he played a role in the Eager Eleven debacle or not. However, I would be more than a little uneasy with any administration threatening to unleash the extremely harsh penalties of that law – a misbegotten statute enacted ostensibly to prevent a race war or the violent overthrow of the Government – on any critic of its policies whether it is a “Gearbox” or a university professor.
What’s alarming is that the threat has neither been endorsed nor repudiated by the Prime Minister or any other Cabinet minister or any DLP official. Makes you wonder, especially with the “crack heads and shoot them” remarks and rumours of imported riot gear.
While we are all waiting for Dr David Estwick, some with bated breath (or not, given his cancelled Press conference in 2010 after he was not named to the finance ministry when his namesake died), to outline his programme to deal with the island’s economic challenges, he can certainly take comfort that once again he has managed to add further controversy to national affairs at a crucial point.
Calculated move
It seemed a calculated move (prepared statement and refusal to take Press questions and all!) and unleashed a storm of speculation (some of it woefully uninformed!) as to his intent, likely action and future in Government and politics generally.
Now, Estwick is by no means a friend of some of those close to, or coveting, the seat of power in Bay Street, or even in George Street. But this is at least his third public protestation of unhappiness with the DLP, and those members of the populace with whom he had found sympathy, will want to see, and expect, more from him this time around than just another angry outburst.
Indeed, some of those who have been clamouring for Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler – the focus of Estwick and the public’s ire over the austerity measures, now including the public sector lay-offs – to replace the Prime Minister had also been in the forefront of those virtually demanding his expulsion (along with Denis Kellman and Clyde Mascoll) from the DLP for not bowing to that group and David Thompson.
But in this political climate, Estwick has to be careful with whatever he proposes publicly, because this administration, or at least some cowardly elements of it (hiding behind requests for anonymity), have made it clear that they are not averse to using the provisions of the Public Order Act against anyone calling for the removal of an incompetent Government.
The rancid response to the clinical analysis of Barbados’ problems and the proscription of political scientist Dr George Belle by a cretin posing as a “party stalwart” was perhaps an unintended expose of the deep difficulties this administration and its supporters seem to have with democratic governance.
What was Belle’s crime?
His indictment was that Government has been applying the “wrong policies” in its response to the economic crisis.
“What we have in Barbados is no longer just an economic problem,” Belle submitted. “We now have a political problem.
“You will not have growth, you will not have recovery if the political problem remains. So one has to remove the political problem. If confidence is to return, you have to remove the political problem. If you want to recover, you got to remove the political problem. If you want growth, you have to remove the political problem.”
How, you might ask, in the good name of Robin Goodfellow, could some Puck in the DLP conclude that Belle was calling for the “violent overthrow” of the Government, and therefore was “batting dangerously close to the crease”?
Another, also unnamed, DLP official (make that another nameless coward!) told Starcom Network he was unsure whether Belle’s comments had contravened any laws “but he will be taking a look at the relevant legislation”.
Belle’s response gave the lie to any suggestion that his disquisition on the ills of the DLP was in any way nefarious, and he further urged Barbadians to negotiate their political future and their pensions by calling for the Freundel Stuart-led regime to resign.
“Vote against the regime,” he said, “and Freundel will have to resign. In three weeks, you got elections.”
History records that the only person, to date, to be charged under the Public Order Act was Marxist politician/lawyer Bobby?Clarke.
Belle would be in good company!
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.