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PETER WICKHAM: Political ring-fencing


PETER WICKHAM: Political ring-fencing

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THE IDEA OF maintaining what can be referred to as a “political ring-fence” around certain members of this administration recently came to mind on account of a conversation I had with one senior member, and I thought the issue worthy of this public reflection. In the past I have been accused of bias in my analysis which appeared to isolate the Prime Minister as the source of all the Government’s problems and moreover, to insulate individual ministers based on what appeared to be a personal affiliation.

One understands these appearances; however, there can be no question that in the Caribbean political discourse leadership has always been a major factor that determines the success and indeed the efficacy of any government. We refer to the Barrow, Adams, Thompson or Sandiford administration as such for an important reason, and while we appreciate the fact that it is Freundel Stuart’s “style” to create some amount of distance between himself and the management of individual portfolios, I am yet to be convinced that this approach to governance has been effective or worthy of emulation.

Regardless, there is a legitimate discussion that can arise regarding the extent to which I have ring-fenced ministers, and indeed if Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has been similarly selective in the past. Such a discussion should examine the extent to which this theory is true, and moreover the legitimacy of such a strategy as it pertains to my political analysis or her pursuit of opposition objectives.

Several months ago Mottley filed a motion against Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler which surprised many as he was one such person who appeared to have been insulated from attack. I do not necessarily agree that she was being selective; however, there are good reasons why direct attacks on Sinckler were not a priority and these have nothing to do with personal friendships.

Presumably Mottley appreciates, as do I, that Sinckler’s situation is a peculiar one as he is one of few ministers of finance who have not controlled the Ministry of the Public Service which is a major source of Government’s unruly deficit. In addition, Sinckler’s financial challenges require an urgent response, which is inconsistent with the style of the leader upon whom he often needs to rely to action his initiatives. A further layer of complexity is added by the fact that it is difficult enough for a Prime Minister to enforce fiscal discipline, far less a minister of finance who has no power to fire or discipline his colleagues.

At the broader political level, the post-election configuration of the Parliament was such that the discomfort of any single DLP MP could result in the demise of the entire administration and it is only natural that a minister’s discomfort should be matched by some level of accommodation across the aisle. This too, is part of our political realty even in an environment where the two parties are supposed to be fundamentally different. In this regard, the ring-fencing of any MP should be guided by an understanding of whose pronouncements are closer to our own political reality.

There is, of course, another side to this discussion and the strongest argument against political ring-fencing is the fact that the DLP administration was presented to us as a single entity and should either be condemned or congratulated similarly. As such, the ship of state should sail or sink with all members aboard and indeed unlucky sailors must be reminded that they voluntarily agreed to sail under this captain and should therefore suffer the consequences (if indeed there are any). We live in a region where yardfowlism has been elevated to a virtue and while I have no problem with party loyalty, it is perhaps time that political aspirants and supporters understand fully the implications of associating with an administration that appears to lack competence.

Political strategies must evolve and analysts keep pace and as such I am comfortable in the notion that the time for political accommodation or ring-fencing has passed. Two psychological markers have come and gone and these relate to a half-way point in the life of the administration and the notorious qualifying bar for Parliamentary pensions. I would, therefore, think it highly unwise for an Opposition leader to contemplate any ring-fencing at this stage, especially as the national mood appears to be such that a careful placement of candidates could create political opportunities, the likes of which the BLP has not seen for some time.

The DLP continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to save itself and an inability to address the persistent economic problems that this island faces. It would, therefore, be prudent for a serious opposition to exploit every and all political opportunities by treating every constituency as winnable and placing the best candidates available to them on every occasion.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]