Cheltenham: Adams would be appalled

Former Prime Minister, J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams, would be anguished if he were to come back from the dead and see Barbados today, former political colleague, Sir Richard Cheltenham Q.C., has said.

Sir Richard, who served in the Adams Cabinet from 1976 to 1985, made the remark as he delivered the 6th Tom Adams Memorial Lecture yesterday, the 30th anniversary of the second prime minister’s sudden death at the age of 53.

Sir Richard Cheltenham
Sir Richard Cheltenham

“Tom was a man who set himself very high standards, and he would be appalled and distressed to see what is going on in the country generally, at every level. Tom … might be speechless. A man given to words might be speechless,”

Sir Richard told party loyalists and other Barbadians who packed the Grand Salle of the Central Bank:

“It is not only at the level of politics that we’re seeing a lot of mediocrity, but generally in every area of national life and I think he would be absolutely distressed”.

Delivering his presentation under the theme, ‘Tactician and Strategist Extraordinaire and Transformative Prime Minister’, the prominent Caribbean jurist spoke of the work ethic of members of the 1976-85 Adams Cabinet, and showed disdain at a report on legislative activity of the current administration, in which, “the minister responsible for the introduction of new legislation was boasting that in the previous five years, they brought in four new bills”.

“We did four a month,” he said, adding: “People forget the extraordinary activity of the first five years of the Tom Adams administration”.

Sir Richard confessed that so fast and furious was the introduction of much needed legislation that he “cried out on the floor of parliament. The House was suffering from legislative indigestion and the entire country”.

He said with Sir Henry Forde, Q.C. as Attorney General, “bills were being brought to the Parliament every week non-stop as though they had a machine just turning them out”.

Emphasizing Adams’ foresight, Sir Richard cited the ABC Highway, the full envisioned development of which was hemmed in by financiers.

“Tom wanted a four-lane highway. The arithmetic of the project and the resistance by the IADB (Inter-American Development Bank) restricted the number of lanes provided. Today, the expansion, as Tom envisaged it, is urgently needed throughout, and will cost several times more than it would have then.

“The highway has allowed for the rapid movement of people and goods across Barbados, and has opened up vast areas for housing and industrial development. It has allowed much better use of our limited land resources and it has avoided the roads becoming car parks.”

Another area that represents Adams’ unfulfilled vision of modern Barbados is the ownership of transportation services on the island, and the economic emancipation that would have come with it.

“In relation to empowering a class, Tom’s view about the mini buses was that apart from those larges houses that had a few coaches – mostly owned by the whites, and he was not interfering with that – he wanted to make this permit which mini bus operators have, of such a nature that they could pass it on from one generation to another . . .

“That is what Tom Adams had in his mind to be economic empowerment of black Barbadians. He was prepared to give the whole transportation sector to that class,” Sir Richard recalled, adding: “It has not quite worked out like that.”

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