Dem not! swears Arthur
No more party whip to stop Owen saying what he wants to
Last month’s decision by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur to quit the Opposition Barbados Labour Party has opened a whole new can of political worms, with rumours flying left, right and centre about his political future and intentions.
But in an interview with Barbados TODAY this week Arthur sought to clear the air on where he stands politically.
He spoke to Editor-In-Chief Kaymar Jordan, who began by asking him for the latest on the controversial Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
ARTHUR: [Chuckles] Believe me when I say I don’t know. I know for sure that the Government is not repealing it. I wonder how many people have paid it. I don’t know if the [Barbados] Labour Party would like to compare how many people attended their march, relative to how many people have paid the tax, because that might be the test as to which course of action people found more acceptable.
But again, not to lose sight of the bigger issue, I strongly believe that the country needs to pay for its environmental solutions, and that is why in 1995 I introduced an environmental levy. The levy was structured in such a manner that it was not a burden. So you were paying it only on things that followed the “polluter pays principle”.
What should have been the Labour Party’s position is to tell the Government, “Look, there was an evironmental levy, you removed it for the wrong reasons. Bring it back.” And all that was neeeded was to make it compatible with our CSME obligations.
And had the Government done that, it would have had an environmental levy very similar to what it had before, because the environmental levy that we introduced fell on things like used cars and new cars, and batteries and plastic products, and whatever else.
Barbados will in the future need to continue to spend large sums on environmental solutions. I wish that the country would come to terms with the fact that there has to be a West Coast Sewerage Project. We cannot continue indefinitely putting our sewage in the sea. And these things have to be paid for.
We have to protect our marine environment. We have to address drainage issues and get a sensible environmental levy and put it in place based upon “the polluter pays principle”.
But what has happened to your effort in St Peter on the Municipal Tax? Is that dead now that some relief has been granted by the Government?
ARTHUR: No, no, no! It is still continuing. The St Peter initiative was not partisan. So that we were still identifying people we felt needed the support of a political system to get relief for them. So, no, it is not dead.
But you have lost your team leader on that?
ARTHUR: I have not! [Chuckles] You mean Mr Jordan?
Yes, Mr Jordan.
ARTHUR: But Mr Jordan was put in place by me to be team leader; so I don’t know I have lost anything.
But he is now the BLP’s caretaker candidate for St Peter. So isn’t that a conflict?
ARTHUR: I do not know that there is any such thing. I don’t know what is happening in the Labour Party in that respect. At some stage, I suppose the Labour Party is going to have a new candidate for St Peter; but whether he is the caretaker or not, what we were doing in St Peter was not partisan. We were not trying to get relief for Labour Party people, or make it a Labour Party issue; it was across the constituency.
So you and Mr Jordan are still working together then?
ARTHUR: Well, I knew Mr Jordan from the time he was a little boy. Mr Jordan’s father and grandfather were strong supporters of the Barbados Labour Party; and he comes from my district. We speak often.
So you have given him your blessing in terms of being the BLP’s caretaker for St Peter?
ARTHUR: I am not going to get into those kinds of things. I hear people in St Peter venting. Mr [Haynesley] Benn is now discovering that I was always a Dem. I don’t get involved in those kinds of things. I am waiting until the elections to decide how I will relate to the political structure.
But Mr Jordan and I have had a close working relationship now for a while, and that is not affected by the fact that I am no longer a member of the Barbados Labour Party.
So you have no problem with the BLP’s choice for St Peter so far?
ARTHUR: Well, I am not a hypocrite. You would have sensed that there were things I was doing in St Peter. In fact, that is what makes my relationship with certain people in the Labour Party so ridiculous, because not only had I announced that I was not going to be a candidate again, but you would sense that I was trying to doing some grooming to try to make sure there was a seemless succession in St Peter.
I can’t now not recognize that I was involved in that exercise and Mr Jordan would have been deputizing for me in St Peter when I couldn’t attend functions.
At the opening of Farrs [Children Home] I asked him to deputize for me; when computers were given to the Boscobel School, I asked him to deputize for me; and in the last election when I couldn’t speak in St Peter, Mr Jordan was speaking on the platform for me.
So he was your heir apparent? He is your choice?
ARTHUR: That is a matter for the branch. I am a democrat where that is concerned; but I was not insensitive to the fact that I am not going to go on in politics forever and ever, and that he was working with the branch. He was the kind of person who had developed a national capacity in tourism. I found it easy to work with him and he was deputizing for me at functions I could not attend.
If people misunderstood that, and did not understand that it was me trying to help with the succession planning in St Peter, I am very sorry for them!
But we speak often and that is not going to stop.
But may I make the point to you that I continue to speak often with people across the Labour Party. I continue to speak often to people in the Democratic Labour Party; and that is not new. Mr Jordan is one of the people whom I speak to often.
So there is no love lost between you and Mr Jordan, and you would have no problem if he eventually becomes the Barbados Labour Party candidate for St Peter?
ARTHUR: There is no question of love lost. I have had the closest working relationship with Mr Jordan when I was the BLP member for the constituency. I repeat again, Mr Jordan was deputizing for me at functions that I could not attend. In my capacity as Member of Parliament, I asked him to please go and represent me.
You have said you are not going to run again. So, going forward, who will you throw your support behind as the ultimate successor for St Peter?
ARTHUR: Again, I don’t know that that becomes an important issue, because the Labour Party in St Peter will look after itself properly. There is a viable institution in place. The members of the branch also have become accustomed to working with Mr Jordan, and it is for the Labour Party to decide what the Labour Party does in St Peter.
I am not even yet sure if there is a role I will play in the next elections, or what that role will be.
I haven’t even given thought to that.
ARTHUR: The question is if I am going to bless somebody or appear on platforms. Right now that is in the realm of the hypothetical.
So you could possibly run again too?
ARTHUR: I will never run again; and, believe me, when I said I was not contesting the next election, that was a genuine position. I was helping to groom somebody in St Peter by getting that person involved, to work with the [BLP St Peter] branch.
It is not by happenstance that I asked Mr Jordan to coordinate our thing [Municipal Solid Waste Tax response]. That was my way of getting him to know the constituency. And I must tell you, he embraced it; he worked with members of the branch, and whatever else. But my role in partisan politics in Barbados is at an end really.
While you say that, there has been talk of your acting in an advisory capacity to the Government. Some of it has been a bit iniquitous, but there has actually been some solid suggestions of the Government seeking your knowledge on things, like going forward on critical policies to do with the economy. Are you open to that?
ARTHUR: Let me just make one point. I am not a Dem, nor am I going to become a Dem.
There are some instances in which the venting of persons from the Democratic Labour Party is embarassing. For example, I heard Mr Haynesley Benn venting about how I was always a Dem. That is just foolishness! Somebody should buy a . . . . He needs to begin to behave like a diplomat. That is nonsense!
I am not now going to suddenly go out to become a consultant to a political institution. I am not doing that. I am not looking for work from the Democratic Labour Party. I am not going to do anything that would suggest that my present situation is because I’m looking for things from the Government. I am not going to do that.
And I have made it very clear to the Government, those persons to whom I speak, that I don’t want anything to be done to suggest that my present circumstances have to do with my looking to have any commercial relationship with the Government. I am not available to be purchased. I am also not a trophy. I really don’t like to be in those positions.
I will be in a position to speak on the floor of Parliament, and . . . without the constraints of the partisan whip, I can more clearly say things I feel are in the interest of the country, unconcerned with if they are going to affect the party or not. And very often there is a limit to how far you can go, because if somethings are needed to be said that are politically unpopular, you don’t say them in politics.
My position will be that I will say things in Parliament that if the Government wants to act on them, they can . . . . but I am not about to enter any commercial or any other similar arrangement with the Government where I am going to become a consultant . . . . I am not going to do that.
But you have been approached, though?
ARTHUR: No! And let me be very clear; and I want to say this about the adults in the Democratic Labour Party. I have had no discussion with Freundel Stuart. He has not made any overtures to me. I don’t think that is his nature either.
There are people who have been venting, and you have to make a distinction between those. Like Haynesley Benn was venting; that is foolish venting too. But there are mature people in the Democratic Labour Party who understand the sensitivity of what I am going through.
I served a party for 30 years. I am not going to suddenly become somebody else. And the notion that I am doing this because I was offered something, I don’t want that to be put out there, because I resent that. And in fairness to Freundel Stuart, he has not encouraged anything of the kind; and I believe that is how it is going to remain.
Do you miss Mia Mottley yet?
ARTHUR: When you say miss Mia Mottley, what are you talking about?
I mean, do you miss interacting with her as a party mate?
ARTHUR: You know, people in Barbados seem not to have understood how serious I was when I wrote a letter to the parliamentary group [of the BLP] indicating in January that I was no longer going to subject myself to Ms Mottley’s leadership. I do not understand why people could not respect that that was a carefully considered opinion.
So that there is nothing about Mia Mottley’s leadership that I can now miss when I said as far back as January that Ms Mottley could not lead me. And nothing has changed.
And is Government MP Dr David Estwick coming over to join you on the Independent bench?
ARTHUR: Mr Estwick intends to become an Independent? . . . . I have not been spending my time doing research. I have not been getting myself caught up in the politics of either of the two parties. Believe me!
I feel as if I have been unleashed from a yoke where I can just do things now that I want to do, without regard to how they are going to affect parties, and to set my mind to matters that I have a keen intellectual interest in.
But Barbados has a highly developed sense of rumour, and I am not into those things about who is leaving and who is not leaving. I don’t know what Dr Estwick is doing. That is the truth!