OUR CARIBBEAN: The choice facing Estwick
As a politician of long standing, Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick continues to betray a surprising level of political innocence about the functioning of governance based on the Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.
Consequently, his repeated missteps in public confrontations with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart must be quite unsettling for even his faithful St Philip West constituents, not to mention the amusement he unwittingly provides for political detractors and opponents.
Some 11 months ago, against the backdrop of the 2013 Christmas holidays, Dr Estwick began to send more than mixed signals about his disagreements with the Government’s fiscal and economic policies and, more surprisingly, Prime Minister Stuart’s Cabinet leadership style.
As I recall, and to make a long spicy political story short, Dr Estwick got his requested “day in court”, so to speak, by Mr Stuart conceding to his surprising public demand to present an alternative package of fiscal measures that could also help address the problems confronting the Government over impending mass layoffs of public sector workers.
Whatever transpired in the process between Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s controversial approaches and Dr Estwick’s “alternative proposals” – if ever implemented – staggered retrenchment of public sector workers became the norm during 2014.
And while all of us who live in Barbados continue to face the harsh realities of rising food prices and general cost of living, Dr Estwick has now come forth, with customary passion for hitting the headlines, with a new confrontational challenge to Prime Minister Stuart.
This time, on the eve of the Prime Minister’s official visit to Cuba, Dr Estwick chose to make public – as exclusively reported in this past Sunday Sun – how “fed up” he is over the non-implementation, “cane with fidelity”, of instructions given (with Mr Stuart’s knowledge) of the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project.
His anger was bared in a seven-page letter sent to the Prime Minister with a warning that “this is the last time I will raise this matter with you . . . .”
That letter, which in effect constituted Dr Estwick’s clearest public ultimatum to Mr Stuart, could well turn out to be his last crossing of the proverbial sword with the leader of the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and second-term Prime Minister.
After all, if Dr Estwick is fully conscious of the depth of the fiscal/economic challenges confronting the Government ahead of Christmas and next year’s national budget, and feels that there has really been no improvements in personal or official “working” relations between him and the Prime Minister, then this may be the appropriate time to part company with a Stuart-led DLP administration.
It must be quite embarrassing for the Prime Minister’s leadership to be publicly chastised – for the second time – by Dr Estwick. Yet, Mr Stuart could either choose to ignore his controversial Cabinet colleague’s challenge and, instead, leave him to make the next move, consistent with his ultimatum in relation to the Cane Industry Restructuring Project.
On the other hand, rather than face Cabinet dismissal – after all, ministers simply do not serve public ultimatums on a prime minister and survive without appropriate discipline – Dr Estwick could quit his portfolio and remain, if so disposed, as a DLP parliamentarian.
This could be uncomfortable for the Prime Minister but the voting status quo in the House would remain a majority of two for the governing DLP in the 30-member Parliament.
On the other hand, if Dr Estwick honestly feels he has had enough of the disagreements with Mr Stuart’s leadership, both at the level of party and Government, he could well quit as minister and, like former Prime Minister and leader of the Barbados Labour Party Owen Arthur, sit as an Independent in the House and leave the Dems to govern with a one-vote majority until national elections.
Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.