ALBERT BRANDFORD: Which is Freundel?
IT IS BECOMING increasingly evident that it does not take much to incur the wrath of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, which seems to contradict the perception of him prior to his elevation.
It may be a sign of the mounting pressure associated with trying to lead Barbados out of its longest post-independence period of economic decline that has started to significantly impact segments of the social landscape.
It appears as if the pressure peaked when he reacted to Sir Hilary Beckles’ criticism of Government’s policy on tertiary education at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Sir Hilary complained that the spending cuts had set the Cave Hill campus back by 20 years and were nothing short of an assault on working-class women.
An apparently upset Stuart lashed back, describing it as “disrespectful” for any university principal to propose an alternative government, and invited Sir Hilary to leave his post and join the political fray where he would be dealt with “politically”.
Ironically, Stuart and Sir Hilary seem to share a passion for history. However, one takes you back for context; the other takes you back for justification. One uses language to mystify; the other uses it to simplify. One divorces pragmatism from philosophy; the other marries them.
There is no doubt that understanding some things about the past is essential in charting a pathway to the future.
From a historical perspective, going back ought to allow leaders to right wrongs, and in doing so, not just put context to the present, but justify current policy. It is in this vein that Stuart’s reaction has to be analysed.
Over a decade ago, Sir Hilary outlined a strategy to have one graduate in every household as the driving force behind his expansion of enrolment at Cave Hill. This seemed consistent with the vision of Errol Barrow, founding father of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which Stuart now has the honour of leading.
In fact, Sir Hilary’s vision embodied the concept of the second phase of independence and was embraced by the Owen Arthur Government. In some ways, it might have been interpreted as not just the right thing to do but the politically correct thing to do at the time.
And it was consistent with the notion that education was the single most important factor in securing and prolonging the economic growth and development for which Barbados was lauded.
Stuart’s sensitivity to the criticism must be seen in the context of its political implications for the ruling DLP as well as his legacy.
In a statement to his party in 1985, Barrow noted: “Democratic socialism is about planning and equality of opportunity. It has always been fundamental to our basic philosophy. We have tried to ensure, so far as possible, that every child born in Barbados has the opportunity to develop the talents with which the Lord has blessed it regardless of the family circumstances into which it happened to be born.”
It is self-evident that Sir Hilary’s subsequent vision for tertiary education fit squarely into the philosophical underpinnings outlined by Barrow. In fact, the latter went on to remind us “that is why one of the first things we did when we won the Government was to decree that secondary education (and subsequently tertiary education) would be free of charge”.
Barrow never got a chance to reverse himself on this position, which contradicts what Stuart said in the Estimates debate in March of this year.
Such appears to be the common ground upon which Sir Hilary and Barrow traversed that the former honoured the latter by establishing the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination at the Cave Hill Campus. Therefore, the new vice chancellor could hardly be accused of being politically malicious in his intent, especially when the Prime Minister associated him with the DLP platform in the early 1990s.
At the time and subsequently, Sir Hilary’s message was about empowerment of the masses, to which he has remained steadfast, backing up the rhetoric with policymaking. In fact, he has been able to utilise some of the resources of the very private sector of which he was critical.
The irony of Prime Minister’s Stuart reaction to Sir Hilary’s criticism is that his minister of finance has stated publicly that the current DLP administration is hoping to build back Cave Hill’s student enrolment.
The philosophical position on tertiary education so eloquently outlined by Errol Barrow and pursued by Sir Hilary is really a source of embarrassment and betrayal for the Freundel Stuart Administration.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]