The buck stops with Stuart
8Have you ever wondered why every administration of government the world over prominently carries the name of its leader? Currently in the United States, there is the Donald Trump administration. Canada has the Justin Trudeau administration. Here in Barbados, we are saddled with an unpopular Freundel Stuart administration.
There is good reason why each administration is so defined. It signifies that the leader is ultimately responsible for everything, whether good or bad, which transpires under that administration. Whether the leader was directly involved or not makes absolutely no difference. The buck stops with him or her. Consenting to be leader always involves assuming ownership of a very heavy responsibility.
There seems to be some understanding among Barbadians that this principle applies in our political tradition. Whenever reference is made to that well-known statement –– “All roads lead to Barrow” –– coined by the Duffus Commission in the late 1970s, there is an implicit understanding that the prime minister is in charge and ultimately responsible. Which perhaps explains why Barbadians believe they should never be in doubt as to whether their prime minister is effectively in full control.
For young readers who may be unfamiliar, the Duffus Commission was appointed by the 1976-85 Tom Adams administration to investigate certain projects undertaken by the preceding Democratic Labour Party government headed by National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow. Though Barrow was cleared of any wrongdoing, the Commission, headed by Sir Herbert Duffus, a former Chief Justice of Jamaica, underscored that as prime minister, ultimate responsibility rested with him.
This point is relevant to any discussion of current happenings in Barbados where so many things seem to be falling apart under the beleaguered Freundel Stuart administration. From the poor state of the economy, the declining condition of key infrastructure, to the erosion of their standard of living, many Barbadians pointedly blame Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler.
While I have criticized aspects of his performance, I honestly cannot place full blame at the feet of my good friend Chris. While it is true that he has day-to-day oversight for the performance of the economy as minister, full and ultimate blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Stuart in keeping with tradition. In other words, “all roads lead to Stuart”.
The fact that Sinckler has remained in the portfolios for so long, even though the population has repeatedly expressed no confidence in his policy prescriptions and called for his removal, means that he obviously enjoyed Stuart’s full blessings. The bottom line is that in our system of government, the prime minister has the prerogative to appoint and disappoint. As Errol Barrow once famously put it, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away!”
So that if a minister is not performing satisfactorily and the population generally holds that perception, the prime minister can exercise his or her authority to relieve the minister, shift him or her elsewhere or consign him or her to the purgatory of the backbench. Errol Barrow did it. Tom Adams did it. Owen Arthur did it. Erskine Sandiford did it. In his short two and half years in office, David Thompson did it too. It is worthy of note, however, that since taking office upon the death of Thompson in October 2010, Stuart has not had a major Cabinet reshuffle.
The only logical conclusion which can be drawn is that he is happy with the overall performance of his team, even though Barbadians are not, he sees no reason for a shake-up or, for some reason, is afraid to touch anyone. Stuart, therefore, is the person on whom full and ultimate blame must be pinned for, among several other things, the pot holes in the roads and the fact that many young Barbadians have had to give up their dreams of a university education on Cave Hill because of the introduction of tuition fees, even though Stuart himself had said such would be a “retrograde step”.
In short, for everything that has gone wrong in Barbados since 2010, including the steady succession of 19 credit rating downgrades that has caused one Jamaican commentator to describe Barbados as “a fallen angel”, full and ultimate blame must be placed on Stuart’s shoulders whether he wishes to accept it or not. The indisputable fact is that every minister, by virtue of the responsibility vested in him or her through his or her selection to serve in the Cabinet, acts as an agent of the Prime Minister –– the ‘primus inter pares’ –– the first among equals. All that we are facing today stems from the consequences of the choices which Stuart either made or were made in his name.
Whether it is keeping non-performing ministers in place, even though the verdict of the public is that they should go, or ignoring problem-solving advice from well-meaning and patriotic Barbadians with proven expertise and experience, these choices can be interpreted as confirmation that Stuart clearly believed that his way –– the DLP’s way that has led to the current tottering state of Barbados –– was the right way. The experience of the average man and woman proves he was wrong.
What I will fully blame Sinckler for is seemingly allowing himself to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts. He could have easily gone to Stuart long ago and said: “Boss man, I would like to be relieved of these ministries because I believe, as prime minister, you are the best person to hold them in the prevailing circumstances in keeping with the Barbadian tradition. As you are aware, I only assumed these portfolios after David Thompson became too ill to handle them when you were acting prime minister.”
With months to go before the next general election, Stuart is surprisingly saying now that he is ready to engage Barbadians in a national conversation on the economy and other critical issues. Seeing that he has repeatedly rebuffed such calls for dialogue over the last four years, I am left to wonder what is the underlying motivation at this eleventh hour. I certainly am not impressed.
It is like a man who ignored his beautiful wife for several years and caused her considerable emotional pain, suddenly saying “Darling, let’s talk!” because he senses that she may be developing an interest elsewhere and soon he will be nothing more than an insignificant footnote on the pages of her life history. Going down on his knees and pleading “Don’t go, please say”, to use the title of a well-known song, will not make a difference at that stage. Too much water has already flowed under the bridge.
Stuart treated the last general election as a referendum on Owen Arthur’s suitability to make a return as prime minister. Reversing the tables, Barbadians must similarly treat the forthcoming general election as a referendum on Stuart’s eligibility to continue as prime minister. The political funeral bell is quietly tolling. In the final analysis, a leader is judged, not so much on what he or she said he or she would do or the length of time he or she has been in office, but the difference he or she has made in transforming the lives of the people for the better.
Can we truly and honestly list this as a major Stuart accomplishment after six years in office? Your answer which suggest that you see him more as the worst prime minister in our history, should inform your voting decision come election day.
(Reudon Eversley is a Carleton University-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)