EDITORIAL: Thanks and goodbye, Dr Brathwaite
WHILE NO OFFICIAL STATEMENT has yet been issued, we cannot help but state at this early stage that the removal of Dr Atlee Brathwaite as executive chairman of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) would be highly unlikely to result in any tear-shedding across the island.
In fact, we can’t help but wonder why it has taken so long.
But perhaps Minister with responsibility for Water Resources Management, Dr David Estwick, needed a fiasco like the one that occurred over the last two weeks when the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) called out BWA workers on strike, and then airport and seaport workers to support them, to arrive at a resolution.
However, all indications are that the level of dislocation initiated by the union could have been avoided had Dr Brathwaite and the BWA’s leadership not taken a course that in our opinion mirrored the same uncaring approach that has characterised their dealings with residents of rural Barbados who have been suffering severe water challenges for at least six months straight.
The pay issues that underpinned the union’s firm stand, like the water shortage, did not originate with Dr Brathwaite and the current leadership of the BWA. All sides agree that the issue dated back almost a decade – long before the retired career civil servant was selected by his friend Dr Estwick to head the authority’s board.
Looking on from the outside, however, we would have had to be both blind and deaf not to have recognised the repeated pleas by BWU general secretary Toni Moore to “put something on the table” for discussion. It was almost as though the union’s leadership was begging the BWA not to force its back against the proverbial wall.
Where could your head be when you are facing an agitated union that is offering you an olive branch but still the word from your organisation is “we need more time”? After a decade?
We equate it with the anger of the residents of St Joseph, St John, St Andrew, St Peter and St Thomas who since the start of the last quarter of last year, had been suffering significant water outages. Barbados’ water mains had been in need of upgrading for decades, so no one could blame the current management of the BWA for this.
Similarly, all Barbados accepted that if the rain does not fall in sufficient volumes, it has a direct impact on our reservoirs. We did not have the level of rainfall required and it impacted the water distribution system – something for which we cannot blame the BWA’s management.
But the dismissive reaction of the BWA to the pleadings of those directly affected we are sure has hurt the suffering residents more than the actual absence of water. How can reasonable people run a critical service-providing entity that has fallen into near crisis and for months not have a conversation with your customers?
We are delighted to learn that members of the Freundel Stuart Cabinet have told their colleague Minister Estwick that Dr Brathwaite must go. No chairman should ever be allowed to believe he is bigger than the entity. More important, we hope this episode will send a message to all “political friends” who are given these choice picks – that you have a serious duty to the public, to the electorate.
It would be unreasonable if we sought to vilify persons who take up these positions for each mistake they make; after all, they are human. But when they start to display a pattern of behaviour that raises serious questions about their capacity to fulfil their mandate, then it can’t be unreasonable to tell them: “Thank you and goodbye!”
The BWA executive chairman had more than earned his “Thank you and goodbye!”