Prime Minister Owen Arthur takes centre stage during a press conference. In the background is MP Gline Clarke. (FILE)
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From humble beginnings in St Peter, Owen Seymour Arthur rose to lead Barbados during one of its most turbulent times, serving as Prime Minister from 1994 to 2008.
After Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford fell via a no-confidence motion and then announced an election in 1994, Arthur rallied the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) faithful to take the reins of power.
He went on to also win the General Elections of 1999 and 2003. His tenure remains the longest among Barbadian Prime Ministers and he was the fifth to hold that office, handling the portfolio of Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.
Arthur was born on October 17, 1949. He was educated at All Saints Boys’ School, Coleridge and Parry School and Harrison College. He later pursued studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and holds a Master of Science degree in Economics.
He spent several years in Jamaica as a Research Assistant, five years at the National Planning Agency of Jamaica and served as Director of Economics at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute between 1979 and 1981.
He returned to Barbados in 1981 and worked in the Ministry of Finance and Planning before returning to UWI. Arthur served in the Senate from 1983, but his defining moment came the following year in the now famous St Peter by-election when he defeated the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Sybil Leacock. He was Opposition Leader from 1993 to 1994 and again from 2010 to 2013.
Opposition Leader Owen Arthur (second from left) with (from left) MPs George Payne, Dale Marshall and Ronald Toppin.
His years in the BLP were not without controversy.
After suffering defeat in the 2008 general election, Arthur stepped down as party leader in favour of current Prime Minister Mia Mottley. But by October 2010, party chairman George Payne and other Members of Parliament Dale Marshall, Ronald Toppin, Gline Clarke and Arthur himself, voted in favour of the former Prime Minister to replace Mottley.
“This is a very difficult time for the country. It is a very difficult time for the party. It is a very difficult time for me,” Arthur said at the time.
“I think the world about Mia Mottley. There is nobody in public life in Barbados who I would have facilitated and enabled them to become as much as they could be.
“I really do wish that Mia Mottley would have led the party to cause the people of Barbados to forget about me.”
He was replaced as party leader after the BLP lost the 2013 general election, announcing that would be his last.
Arthur was at times highly critical of Mottley and on July 25, 2014 announced his resignation from the Party after 43 years. He opposed the march against the Solid Waste Tax on the grounds that the DLP was “trying”, while the BLP’s solution of a tax on water was even more “absurd” than what was on the table.
He said in part: “And it tells me that this institution, has, in addition to other strong evidence, this institution has now been made a plaything and is in danger of becoming the victim of what I could only call “megalomaniac tendencies” and I don’t want to [be] part of an institution that is a plaything and allows itself to become a victim of megalomaniac tendencies.”
Arthur also opposed the wearing of white at the march, saying it went against the Party’s symbols.
In his latter years, he played an active role as a Professor of Practice: Economics of Development at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus and continued to write various papers on economics, trade and policy.
Earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of LIAT which is facing liquidation and Mottley also announced during one of her COVID-19 press conferences that she would be drawing on his expertise to help lead Barbados through these turbulent times. (Nation News)