Dr David Estwick has broken his silence in the ongoing Estimates Debate.
Tonight, he participated for the first time in the near week-long political exercise, but as predicted by two leading political scientists, the maverick St Philip West MP was quite tame.
On this occasion, no reference was made at all by Estwick to his controversial alternative economic plan, which already has been made public and which flies in the face of the one currently being pursued by his own Government.
However, the Minister of Agriculture added his voice to the day’s discussion on health. Without pledging his support to the Estimates, he argued strongly during his 15-minute presentation that the country’s health care system needed to be moved away from just being a consumer to being a generator and productive sector of the economy.
“We must transition the system so that you maintain what works well now; but I want to see the linkages that the Minister of Tourism [Richard Sealy] spoke to. That is, let us move it and modulate it and change it into health and wellness, and a medical tourism system, so that it can now evolve; so that it can become a foreign exchange earning sector in Barbados and create jobs and opportunities.”
Estwick stressed that the health care system could be a major earner of foreign exchange if Barbados could be a major training centre, attracting persons from abroad.
In separate interviews with Barbados TODAY, ahead of Estwick’s presentation, both Peter Wickham and Dr Tennyson Joseph said that, based on his silence to date, they did not anticipate any major outbursts or radical action by the minister during the Estimates. In fact, they expect him to toe the party line when the revenue and expenditure proposals ultimately come up for vote.
Estwick has been awaiting word from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Cabinet colleagues on his alternative plan for rightsizing the economy, the basis of which is US$5 billion in funding from the United Arab Emirates.
Wickham told Barbados TODAY it was now a “foregone conclusion” that the Government had not taken on board Estwick’s alternative plan, given the substance of the Estimates laid before lawmakers.
He is however not expecting any radical action from Estwick, who has publicly blamed the Government’s policies for the poor state of the economy.
“I don’t see him taking a position that is adversarial against the Government on the floor of the House but he has available to him an option which is a path of lesser resistance that would have a similar impact, which is, to say nothing and either by way of a vote he can either abstain or alternatively not be present,” he said.
Joseph, who is head of Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, is also expecting Estwick to maintain the status quo and to support his ruling Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) colleagues on the Estimates.
“His proposal didn’t factor in any of Government’s projections in the Estimates. Then it clearly means that they weren’t taken into consideration for the exercise we just witnessed.
“So I don’t expect anything other than his voting with the Government when the time comes to vote,” Joseph said, noting that ministers took a similar approach to the no confidence motion against Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
He added it was odd that a sitting member of Parliament would not take the opportunity to comment on the Estimates.
Joseph reserved comment on the financial measures, but Wickham labelled the Estimates as “disappointing”, saying the overall package was not a “seismic shift” in the Government’s economic plan.
Wickham suggested the Freundel Stuart administration did not appear “unduly perturbed” about the nature of economic conditions, adding that there was “seemingly no great cause for concern on their part”.
“It is disappointing, and I think that this is the crux of the problem. The problem seems to be that Government doesn’t think it has anything to worry about; and I think the majority of us do.”
“People are possibly going to be disappointed when they look at the overall package and they understand the implications that we will have to deal with additional revenue measures shortly,” he said. (SD/CW/NC)