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    September 27

  • 01:27 PM

PURELY POLITICAL: Self-interest in Cabinet reshuffle

ALBERT BRANDFORD,

Added 09 October 2010

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“The greatest crimes do not arise from a want of feeling for others but from an over-sensibility for ourselves and an over-indulgence to our own desires.” – Edmund Burke, British statesman and philosopher (1729-1797). NOW THAT SOME of the dust has settled on Prime Minister David Thompson’s third Cabinet reshuffle, maybe it’s time for Barbadians to step back from the emotionalism and partisanship and take a more reflective look at the circumstances surrounding the changes. First, let me say that there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the reshuffle had three very specific objectives. In order of importance, they were: to make Chris Sinckler “The Man”, to pull down Dr David Estwick, and to send a signal to Freundel Stuart, and possibly to Denis Kellman. It is also clear that the reshuffle contained elements of political opportunism, political betrayal and political revenge.   In the initial appointments to the Cabinet, it was argued that Sinckler had the training, the experience from his position at the regional think-tank Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) and his exposure to the international organisations to become Barbados’ foreign minister of choice. Within less than 14 months, he was surprisingly “promoted” to the position of Minister of Social Care, Urban and Rural Development; surprisingly, because the initial appointment was always seen as one for a senior minister of Government. Prior to being given the Ministries of Finance and Economic Affairs week before last, Sinckler’s appointment as Leader of Government Business – replacing Minister of Education Ronald Jones – was noticed by the astute political analysts in our midst. It was another surprising move that, on reflection, could have signalled that there was more in the mortar than the pestle at the time. Last year, Prime Minister Thompson separated the Ministries of Finance and Economic Affairs, holding Finance for himself and entrusting Estwick with Economic Affairs, albeit a scaled-down version of the original ministry. What other than naked political opportunism could have informed the decision to let Sinckler hold the two ministries? Recall that the Prime Minister, experienced as he is, did not hold the two ministries. It is, therefore, reasonable to think that some adviser, or some small group of advisers, may have had a say in the decision to anoint Sinckler in a manner appropriate to his eventual ascension to the throne. This assertion is not farfetched now that we have learnt that principal political adviser Hartley Henry is at the bedside of the Prime Minister in New York. Dare I ask whether it is to provide comfort, or to provide advice, in Thompson’s greatest hour of need? When I spoke earlier of opportunism, that was a reference to those who stand to benefit from Sinckler’s placement in the political batting order. Enlightened self-interest, as the late Errol Barrow called it some years ago, is known to be in the DNA of the politician but it is equally so in the DNA of those who advise them and hope to share in the fatted calf. In this environment of pronounced uncertainty, it is challenging since “The Man”, though highly favoured by his leader, is not yet second-in-command because of the Elders. This is compounded by the fact that the Deputy is not in with the Advisory Council. These inappropriate alignments complicate the takeover which now has to be repeated to permit the Deputy to rein in the short term, allowing enough healing to take place to make way for “The Man’s” ascension over time.     In arguably the most difficult period ever to confront the Barbados economy, the entire load of financial and economic responsibility is being put on the back of a neophyte, when the load could have been shared with a man who carried the fight for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) as shadow Minister of Economic Affairs in the last Parliament and throughout the last general election campaign. The political revenge may be seen in the support which Estwick publicly gave to the embattled leader of the Democratic Labour Party between 2003 and 2005; so much so that he did not sign Clyde Mascoll’s dismissal letter wrongly sent to the Speaker of the House and not the Governor General. He was appointed deputy Leader of Opposition and, notwithstanding Estwick’s obvious attempts to distance himself from Mascoll in the aftermath of the election of 2008, it is well known that politicians have long memories when it suits them.   No matter how hard one tries to rationalise the decision to remove Estwick as Minister of Economic Affairs, it is impossible to see it as a decision that puts the country first, especially given the economic circumstances which confront us. It is much easier to see it as a purely political move botched by someone or some group seeking to have influence into the future. It is all about the kingmaker and not about the eventual king’s charges. Long live the kingmaker. In the circumstances, it is natural for Estwick to feel as though he has been betrayed. If Estwick feels a sense of betrayal, then Stuart may feel a sense of revenge. Not too long ago, the contest for the presidency of the Democratic Labour Party was pretty bruising between Stuart and Thompson. It was characterised by some very strong words that reflected Stuart’s concerns about Thompson’s return being associated with the days of internal hate, infighting, blood-letting, cursing and ruling by division. One would have thought that the electoral victory in 2008 might have swept the 2005 campaign under the carpet and ushered in a period of stability and continuity. Indeed, in his address recently to the party’s annual conference, in his capacity as acting Prime Minister, Stuart indicated that either he or Prime Minister Thompson would deliver the budget sometime after Parliament resumed in October. Given the turn of events in recent weeks, Stuart’s annual conference declaration no longer seems tenable. A week is certainly a long time in politics. The question is: what could have happened in the last two months to change the course of events in the ruling Democratic Labour Party so dramatically? There is the obvious announcement of the Prime Minister’s pancreatic cancer but this is a health issue which has apparently metamorphosed into a wave of political action that seems hurried, harsh and angry. In an environment that inspired calls for love and unity, the appointment of Kellman to an important post in Cabinet would have signalled that forgiveness, if not healing, had truly taken place. In a Cabinet lacking in experience and especially given the condition of the Prime Minister’s health, Kellman’s elevation was not too much to expect. As someone with training in accounts, he is more comfortable than most with numbers, including the new Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. The demotion of Estwick, the marginalisation of Stuart, and the continued exclusion of Kellman are all indicative of a political programme designed to put calculated self-interest above the obvious needs of the country at a time when the Cabinet needs more experience, more talent, and more leadership. • Albert Brandford is an independent, freelance political correspondent for The Nation.

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