Estwick: Standing my ground
He is considered by some as the most controversial Cabinet minister, and has even been critical of some of his own ministerial colleagues. Even when the voice of Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Management Dr David Estwick had been silent for any length of time during the past year, it created major interest. Whenever it was heard, his comments were big news that had tongues wagging.
Among the most intriguing moments that sparked widespread debate were Dr Estwick’s threats to resign, his ultimatum to the Prime Minister and his call for Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to be sanctioned over his handling of an alternative funding proposal to finance the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Project. With these matters in mind, Barbados TODAY selected Minister Estwick as Newsmaker Of The Year in its Year In Review 2014.
Following is Part 2 of an interview which Senior Reporter Emmanuel Joseph recently conducted with him for that review.
Considering that you have been selected by Barbados TODAY as Newsmaker Of The Year for 2014, why do you think people see you as controversial?
I am not sure exactly why that is the case. I think that some of it is fabricated –– deliberately so. Some of it is designed to paint me as whom I am not. That is politics; I understand that.
My controversies come because I do not allow people to rub foolishness in my head. I am trained as a scientist and trained as a physician; and I am also trained in philosophy, logic and ethics. So therefore, I have the capacity to use inductive and deductive reasoning, and to use the imperical methodologies soundly.
So as a result of this, if I have to defend a position, I am going to do so with rigour. There are some who may have a problem with that. As a result, I may be controversial because I am not going to be led down a road that I do not believe that I ought to go. And once I have come to that conclusion, I am not going. It is as simple as that.
If they interpret that as being controversial, well so be it. I can live comfortably with that so-called label, because when I go home at nights, I can rest quite comfortably without those sort of thoughts at all in my mind.
How would you like to be seen?
I would like to be seen as, one, a politician who is dedicated to his task; a politician who brings a set of skills to jobs that are given to me, and one who approaches the various tasks with a level of commitment, dedication and seriousness; and a politician who would always put the interests of the people of Barbados first.
When I came into politics, I was a medical doctor with a medical office, practising medicine for about four, or five years, down in Wildey in Franklin House.
So, in other words, I came into politics with an already fixed moral compass, and a fixed design socially as to how I am going to use the God-given skills that I have to advance the lives of people. Other people before me would have had to make those similar choices, and I made mine in regards to my political future. It is those types of underlying characteristics or value structures that helped me to determine the direction in which I am going.
You appear to have a passion for the economy and economics. Are you happy with where we are today?
Let me answer that question this way. I am not. I don’t think any Barbadian who understands anything about international, regional or domestic economies, how they interrelate and where we are in terms of our fiscal challenges and debt challenges, can be happy. I am not.
As a result of that, there are times when to others it might appear as though I may be making comments that may rock the boat. But as a student of philosophy and history, I do not buy into the thesis of a monarchial parliamentary democracy that defines an archaic operational mandate of Cabinet collective responsibility. Anybody in Cabinet knows that is nonsense. Because it sets up essentially a prime ministerial dictatorship. That is what it is.
So when I hear people talking about these things, who don’t know what they are talking about, I just smile. The reality is, that a Prime Minister is better off, or better served, not by a ring of yes-men, but by having one or two people who would say: “Prime Minister, you’re wrong; you are wrong because of X,Y and Z.”
And you allow the philosophical underpinning of utilitarianism; that is, that the majority position still goes forward; the system benefits. But if you were to accept that dictatorial, fascist-type, kingly presiding over the execution of a Cabinet, then you miss out that dissenting voice.
A few years ago your head would be chopped off, I believe. Or you would be sent to Siberia. I am happy that we have gone to the stage where I can say Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would listen to a dissenting voice. At no time, though, when I had to dissent, I dissented in public.
When I spoke to the Cabinet with regards to how I perceived the economy of Barbados and the direction in which it ought to go, I spoke to the Cabinet. I wasn’t the one who brought it to the public domain –– even in the most recent public situation.
Again, I wrote to the Prime Minister and the ministers in Cabinet. I wasn’t the one who brought it out. So when I see people writing editorials about bastardization of the so-called collective Cabinet system of Westminster, I say: “Wait, wuh planet these guys are on?”
Because I would have done what I was supposed to as a thinking human being, to give the Prime Minister and the Cabinet the benefit of how I perceived this matter, and therefore how I analysed the data and how I drew inferences from taking that data and carrying it through a rigorous analysis via inductive, deductive reasoning and other elements of analysis.
That’s how I operate. No more, no less than that. If that is controversial, then so be it.
How would you analyse the Ministerial Statement by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler?
Again. The Minister of Finance has a job to do, and his job is to manage a strategy. That strategy requires him to make projections. He has made projections indicating what he thinks are the outcomes of the projections; that is, on the fiscal side, and in particular on the debt side, and in particular on growth.
He identifies the projects he believes would come online to execute the growth. Fine. I don’t have a problem with that. You can predict anything.
But for me, personally, I have already established that I did not think, from way back in January, that utilizing the Budget tool alone would have got us out of this hole. When I first said it at Cabinet, and those people attacked me, a few months after, the Central Bank Governor came back and said we were still $400 million short. And now we are $175 million short.
And each time we have gone through five or six years of flat or no economic growth or anaemic economic growth.
My statement on this matter, therefore goes right back to what I said in January; and I am not changing that, because that is what my analysis is.
If the Minister of Finance wants to stay on the trajectory and that is the advice that he thinks is best suited for one to accept and to carry it forward, then that is a decision for him and is a decision therefore that the Cabinet would have taken, and that is the reason why the Ministerial Statement would have occurred. That is the best way for me to answer that.
Do you see any economic improvements in 2015 based on what is happening right now?
I am going to be brutally frank. I am supposed to be . . . . Note the language I am using. I am supposed to be the chairman of the Infrastructural Committee of the Cabinet. As far as I know, from way back when such a committee was established under former Prime Minister David Thompson, that committee was tasked with determining projects, prioritizing projects, having oversight of projects, and therefore managing those projects with the private sector or the public sector to completion.
Sometimes I really have to appreciate whether or not I am in a position to carry out that task. There are times when I am not really sure I want to stay as chairman of the Infrastructural Committee of Cabinet, because I feel as though I am spinning top in mud. Minister Darcy Boyce was the minister before me and the Prime Minister transferred that to me around April, 2013.
So here I am the only minister who ever served as chairman of the Economic Committee and who ever served as chairman of the Cabinet Committee On Infrastructure. There are times I am being told of projects starting tomorrow or next month in the media and I am supposed to be chairman of the Infrastructural Committee of Cabinet. So when I have to say that is not the way you do it, some would say “he is not a team player”.
No, I stand for process; procedure in doing it the right way. And, if I have to stand up on that, I will stand up on that.
I have said to the Prime Minister if the time comes that I believe that I am ineffective because of process not working around me, I will resign. And as I am sitting down here with you today, I am telling you that is what I will do.
So, for 2015, growth depends on project implementation. I don’t know who the implementer is going to be, because the responsibility is supposed to be under a committee that I have responsibility for. But I am not confident right now that the prioritizing and the determination of the various projects is my task.
And the task therefore is that I would have to recommend to the Cabinet based on what the committee says. So it is not an Estwick determination as to what ought to happen. But they ought to pass through the committee, be determined, be analysed and then the committee makes the recommendation to the Cabinet.
That committee is supposed to be the Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Management Dr David Estwick as chairman; Minister Darcy Boyce as deputy chairman; then you have the Ministry of Transport and Works; the Ministry of Housing and Lands; the Ministry of Finance; the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Investment; the Director of Economic Affairs, as well as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
And I awake and see in the newspaper of projects coming next month, next week; and which should be financed first and third and second. I ain’t standing fuh dat. Let me make it quite clear.
So when I have to say what I have to say, they are: “No he shouldn’t say that.” Because I’m supposed to sit down like a little boy or a mouse. David Estwick will never be that.
So anything I say I will stand behind and be able to defend, because I am standing on process, procedure and principled positions; and I am not afraid therefore to deal with this.
So in answering your question specifically, therefore, I cannot tell you next year which projects are going to come first, which are going to come second or which are going to come third, because they have not yet been analysed by the Infrastructural Committee of the Cabinet to so determine which one we would recommend to the Prime Minister.
So I, like you, am reading things in the newspaper every day and hearing statements being made by ministers all about the place. So if the growth strategy is based on project implementation, don’t ask David Estwick anything about it.
My advice is ask the Prime Minister until they can be managed through the Infrastructural Committee of Cabinet. If it comes a time when I realize I cannot get that done, I will resign as chairman of the Infrastructural Committee of Cabinet and let the Prime Minister so appoint somebody else in which he has greater confidence in getting the job done. That is the best way to answer.
So you can’t say how the economy is likely to perform in 2015?
I really cannot say. The reason why is because the Ministerial Statement outlines a set of measures which one can call amnesty measures defined to ask people to come and pay the money. No new taxes. So you have a situation where the revenue measures that would have been put in place are the revenue measures that are working.
But we are saying we are going to review some of those because of pressure on the people, but yet we’re supposed to reach the targets. While you are fiscally consolidating, you are not cutting any expenditures based upon sending home people; so you are going to allow attrition and other things to occur. What I am trying to say here is that that is a very amorphous determination of a set of complexities.
I will wait for the Minister of Finance to pull out what the specifics are. That is not for me to say; that is for him to say and for the Prime Minister of this country to work with the Minister of Finance to bring out. My job obviously is when these discussions come up, I will say what I have to say
in regards to how I see it.
. . . But I go right back to those statements I made to the Cabinet; I stand by those statements. In time, we will know whether or not the statements I made were sensible or whether they were foolish . . . . By extension, I cannot attack the Minister of Finance’s position as to how he perceives the actions that he would have executed . . . .
I speak to the growth side. I would do my best to try to get the projects I believe are of importance to Barbados going forward. There may be a difference of opinion in that some may believe it is tourism only. Some may believe the only way out for us is tourism. Let tourism lead the way, as they say; so build all hotels and condominiums. That’s the way to get out the problem.
I say no. That is the way to repeat the problem. Because when I analyse every single recession that Barbados has ever had, from the 1970s, that is exactly what we did. Every single one of them came right out of the recession and we restructured the economy back into a tourism-led economy and one led by international business. So that every single time you have a problem with tourists coming to Barbados or international people investing in Barbados, we have gone into recession.
We have not diversified to execute mitigation against recession. I am saying, no, don’t make the same mistake again. I understand the need to build out certain elements of the tourism product because it is a stale old product, but I believe that we would be making a cardinal mistake of not addressing other sectors that would help us to save foreign exchange.
My mother always said to me: “Son, every penny saved is a penny earned.”
But some believe that that is not important. What you should do is earn all the foreign exchange and spend it back overseas. So don’t diversify agriculture and feed the tourists. Waste foreign exchange and buy the tourists’ food. That makes sense to them. It doesn’t make sense to David Estwick.
So therefore my job as a minister is to say no, that doesn’t make sense. It is wiser to bring the tourists, build the new hotels for them, but let me feed them here with local food, because we are going to save some of the same money that you are raising that is going to go back overseas if I’ve got to buy all the food.
But there is another factor to that, which is the social side, which you can’t underestimate. The jobs, the spending of VAT, excise, PAYE, NIS and then the diminution of potential social dislocation. But some people don’t see these things as important. What they see is the bottom line numbers
as though a society is about whether or not ones and twos add up.
It is not about that. There are a whole number of other factors that add up. And that is why I am going to hold my position strongly, and I think that in time those who may want to believe that these are the only ways for us to get out of the hole would rethink that position and let us therefore go forward with a more balanced effort towards the types of projects that we select . . . and don’t let all them seek to be building hotels and condominiums.
Is the UAE [United Arab Emirates] funding proposal for rescuing the local economy still on the table?
All I can say on that is we are awaiting final determination from the Prime Minister as to what he wants to do. I am confident that the offers are still there. I was in discussion with two of the principals about two evenings ago [nearly three weeks ago] because there are some private sector interests that are being engaged with regards to some of their large projects.
I would just simply say that that interface is occurring. On the public national front, all I would say is we are still awaiting final determination from the Prime Minister to take certain steps.
Some have said that you are just hot air, and you are always blowing and always threatening to resign, but it is just going up in the air.
They have their views. When I was Minister of Economic Affairs, didn’t I resign as chairman of the Economic Committee of Cabinet? I resigned forthwith. But what they may not appreciate is that when you are a representative of people, it is not as simple as taking a decision only at Cabinet as a minister.
I have about 9,000 plus people here in St Philip [West] who depend on me to be able to assist them either individually or at the level of the community, or at the level of service applications in the constituency. So when I make those comments that unless certain things are dealt with I am going to take action, they better believe what I am saying. Because if I think that that is the last straw for me, then I will resign.
But sometimes what you do is that you indicate what your position is and you hope that changes would occur. If those changes occur, then that would abate [things]. But if the same insult becomes chronic, now what are you going to do?
I have not had the opportunity to face that, apart from when I was Minister of Economic Affairs; and when that time came I resigned as chairman of the Economic Committee of Cabinet.
And, as I said, as you know in the letter that was leaked, . . . I said if certain things continued, I would resign as chairman of the Infrastructural Committee of Cabinet.
When it is all said and done, I am going to be judged by my constituents, and I would be judged by my own conscience; and those are the only two elements of judgement I am concerned with at this stage.
When I’m ready to die, I would be concerned with the other judgment –– the judgment of the Almighty!