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PURELY POLITICAL: Power of the doc


Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Power of the doc

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So I am simply saying this [Government’s strategy] is not going to cure the [economic] illness. It’s going to prolong the illness. That’s another problem. Let’s cure the illness. And these [his] new tools are going to cure the illness.” – Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, February 3.
APPARENTLY, THE RECENT outburst by the unsettled Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, also a former Minister of Economic Affairs, was intended to get the attention of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
He was hoping that by last Thursday at Cabinet, Minister Donville Inniss, who is also general secretary of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), would have been able to persuade Stuart of the wisdom of allowing him to make a PowerPoint presentation to put his new fiscal tools on display.
The presentation was not made then, but a promise has been made for this Thursday.
The politics of Estwick’s request is fascinating. It is inconceivable that over the last several months, or indeed years, he was unable to raise his new tools under the item Any Other Business at Cabinet. If he did not hold the key to political balance prior to February 2013, he certainly does now that Government only has a slim majority of two.
It is in that context that this comment is highly instructive: “I am committed to Barbados. Barbados is my first responsibility. The tool through which I am executing that responsibility is through the Democratic Labour Party. So therefore, my allegiance to the Democratic Labour Party will stay strong as long as I am confident that the Democratic Labour Party’s allegiance is to the development of this country, and particularly protecting its people and its resources.”
If he believes that the current strategy is not going to cure our economic illness, then it follows that apart from getting a hearing with the Prime Minister, Estwick is suggesting that there has to be radical change in Government’s fiscal policy. The latter raises several questions about the political process if change is to occur.
Any change, but especially radical change, brings the competencies of the minister of finance, the ministry of finance and economic affairs and the Central Bank of Barbados into question at this late hour. Further, the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would also be up for scrutiny. And apart from the economic wisdom of the individuals and institutions involved, the political leadership of the Prime Minister would have to be fully evaluated.
In another Cabinet, and at certainly at another time, Estwick’s public utterances may have been easily dismissed with possible consequences for him. But given the delicate parliamentary majority of this Government, this declaration cannot be ignored: “If the time comes that I believe strongly that there is evidence that the opposite occurs [the DLP’s allegiance], then I will leave the Democratic Labour Party. And if that time comes, I will make my determination as to my political future, whether I sit as an Independent or I go and join the Barbados Labour Party.”
In essence, Estwick has to have his say with the Cabinet. If and when he has his say, then the question is: Is that sufficient in his eyes or is he insisting on a change in policy?
Change in policy puts in this one man serious, if not all, of the political power against all of the intellectual power available to Government.                        
In the circumstances, one is left to wonder which one will give: the economic or political power?
Never before has a politician had such power and been in a position to use it, simply because there has never been such a slim majority in Parliament. Even if Estwick appears to be developing a reputation for crying wolf, he was in a position in the past to be abandoned by his colleagues and ignored by the Prime Minister.
But even the most doubting of Thomases, especially in Cabinet, could not have afforded to ignore his cries this time around and still cannot afford to do so. The quick meeting was never convened in the past but it was last weekend.
What a difference a day in politics can make. It is now almost a year since the last election and it has made a real difference in the public’s perception of this Government. Equally, members of Cabinet have to perceive Estwick very differently, since he holds the keys to the country’s future in several dimensions.  
His public utterances have effectively highlighted the weak leadership position of the Prime Minister.
And whenever the opportunity comes for him to speak to Cabinet, it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall to observe the faces and the body language, especially in both cases, of the Prime Minister.
 
• Albert Brandford is an independent polictial correspondent.

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