20 years later . . .
SANDI GOES DOWN 12-14, proclaimed the newspaper headline in big, bold, black type.
It starkly told the sad story of a historic no-confidence motion in the House of Assembly that presaged the passing of one Government and the ushering in for a divided populace of a changed reality.
For it seemed that politicians were no longer willing to put their lives and prospects into the hands of the traditional Big Man, but were not only willing to listen to their conscience, and were prepared to sacrifice their political fortunes by taking a principled stand against what they perceived to be incipient tyranny.
Today, one day after the 20th anniversary of the June 7, 1994 marathon debate in the House, most of the players in that – for some – dark political drama, are no longer active on the political stage.
Some have gone to a higher parliament in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns and can no longer speak for themselves here, while for the central character in the cast, former Prime Minister Erskine (now Sir Lloyd Erskine) Sandiford, it appears to be simply too painful a memory about which he would be willing to speak.
It is understandable if Sir Lloyd would not want to relive the hurt caused, perhaps not so much by his eventual loss of political power, but by the desertion of four key members of his Cabinet over his “adamant” insistence on the controversial appointment of a chief executive officer to the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA).
The DAILY NATION recorded that his second-term Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government fell to a crashing defeat after he was “rebuffed by his backbenchers and regaled by the front bench” resulting in the dubious distinction of being the first Caribbean prime minister to suffer such a parliamentary humiliation.
“Four former members of the Sandiford Cabinet supported the resolution which now threatens to bring down the Democratic Labour Party Government or force an early election,” reported then Editor-in-Chief (now Emeritus) Harold Hoyte, from Parliament.
“These ex-ministers – Wes Hall (now Sir Wesley), Evelyn Greaves, Keith Simmons and Harold Blackman (now deceased) – spoke in succession in two sustained hours of attack on their party leader between 2:15 and 4:30 p.m.
“In addition to these four, the motion got support from Independent Leroy (now Sir Roy) Trotman, also a former DLP MP, as well as nine members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party.”
Notice of the motion had been given by then Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur on May 27 after he had on May 22 indicated he would finally accede to the wishes of BLP members and others who had been making clamant calls for parliamentary action against him.
Said Arthur: “Erskine Sandiford is no longer fit to be Prime Minister of Barbados. His actions have destroyed the credibility and authority attached to the office of Prime Minister. In the circumstances, the Barbados Labour Party will, as a matter of urgency, introduce into Parliament a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister.”
Explaining the timing of the motion and his resistance to those calls while awaiting a more propitious moment, Arthur added: “Earlier, the only charge against Mr Sandiford was that people left his Cabinet complaining about his leadership style. In our judgement, that did not strike at the heart of his authority or diminish the prestige of the office as this act has.
“There is no precedent in our country where three former Cabinet members have, in unison, accused the Prime Minister of telling untruths.”
That was a reference to a May 18 televised statement by Sandiford accusing the MPs of being “diametrically opposed” to the BTA appointment.
Political tension reached fever pitch, and the nine-hour debate in the House took place before packed Press and Visitors’ galleries, while hundreds of others were left outside the North Gate.
Though the DLP Government eventually collapsed, it is important to note that while Sandiford suffered a defeat on the no-confidence vote, the resolution for the revocation of his appointment did not get the required 15 votes for passage.
“It fell short by one because of Opposition MP DeLisle Bradshaw’s absence, reducing the opposition strength from ten to nine,” the newspaper reported.
“Bradshaw, who underwent an emergency medical procedure in Antigua yesterday, was the only absent member.”
As he made his defence from the floor, Sandiford apologised to his former ministers but insisted he had not committed any “high crime” and placed himself before the judgement of history.
“I am sure that history will be kinder to me than the histrionics and polemics which my opponents have brought to bear on this issue,” he declared.
The jury in Parliament may have returned a guilty verdict, but it is still out in the court of public opinion on the issue of Sandiford’s legacy as Prime Minister.
Also, to some extent, he has been rehabilitated by the party that rejected his leadership style and in the process forced itself into the wilderness of Opposition politics for 14 years.
The newly elected DLP Government in 2008, not only sought his counsel, but utilised his extensive experience by appointing him as the first resident ambassador to the emerging powerhouse China.
Barbados is fortunate to still have him around today and politicians and others can draw some lessons from that episode and ensure that such circumstances may never again prevail.