Saying he was fed up and tired of being perceived “as a source of discord” within the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), former Prime Minister Owen Arthur plans to make a definitive statement tomorrow on his future relationship with the BLP, which he led for over 15 years.
Arthur served notice of his intention mere hours after the BLP, under the leadership of Mia Mottley, held a protest march through the streets of The City today against the Government’s introduction of the controversial Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
However, Arthur, who was noticeably absent from today’s “white march” which was attended by the other 13 sitting BLP Members of Parliament, said his decision to “abstain” was based on principle.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, the St Peter MP also admitted to feeling “conflicted” as he promised to say definitively tomorrow whether he felt he still had a future with the BLP.
“I am tired being perceived as the source of discord in the party, and tomorrow I will be making a definitive position in terms of my future relationship with the Barbados Labour Party,” said Arthur.
Pressed to say whether he would be resigning, Arthur would only say “you will get it [my statement] tomorrow, but it will be very definitive”.
At issue for him, is Mottley’s stance that there needs to be repeal of the Municipal Solid Waste Tax.
Arthur, who was Prime Minister for 14 years, said it would be “hypocritical” for him to support such a call at this stage, since one of his first acts when he took over the Government in 1994, was to introduce an environmental levy.
“I am the only person in Barbados who cannot with honour, participate in an event with the intention of protesting totally against a Government introducing a measure to raise resources for environmental solutions, and I cannot do that with any honour because I introduced one as my first act as Minister of Finance and Prime Minister of Barbados,” he told Barbados TODAY, adding that his decision was prompted then by three reasons that remain valid.
“The first is that at the Rio Summit in 1991, the global community . . . committed itself to heightenng the fight to find solutions to environmental issues and urged that countries and governments introduce in their fiscal system, measures to raise resources for environmental management and sustainable development on the basis of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
“It is for that reason that in 1995 I introduced an environmental levy as Minister of Finance,” Arthur recalled.
He noted that the levy, which was in existence for 15 years, was introduced at a time when the absence of resources for environmental development and management led to a debacle at Mangrove called Mount Stinkeroo “and it was no longer acceptable that the country should see the absence of financial resources as a reason why we have Mount Stinkeroos in Barbados”.
He said his former administration had also accepted that environmental management issues were going to factor heavier and heavier in the context of public policy in Barbados.
“We had to put in a South Coast Sewerage System. We still need one for the West Coast. We had to deal with Mangrove. You had to protect the shoreline; and I could go on.”
Based on that, Arthur said he could not now fault the Freundel Stuart administration for its move to apply resources to deal with environmental management, even as he warned “you have to do it properly”.
“This Government abolished the environmental levy and then came with a tax that was absurd. It is [now] trying to make the tax sensible. But I cannot participate with honour in [a march] to have no environmental resources at all,” said Arthur.
He went on to dismiss Mottley’s proposal for a water levy to replace the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, saying it would only make matters worse.
“That would cause me, if that was to be the proposal, to do in St Peter, what I did in relation to the municipal tax. I would have to urge my constituents not to pay that too. So I am therefore in a very conflicted position,” he said.
“I have already indicated that I was not comfortable with what the Democratic Labour Party had done. They have shown an initiative to try to address that. I am not happy with what the Labour Party has put on the table. In fact, I think that will lead to a worse situation; and, therefore, I abstained and I am going to address this matter further in the context of its politics tomorrow. But I abstained today because having introduced an environmental levy, I can’t tell the country now that the Government cannot raise resources for environmental management. I can’t do that. It is not fair,” he stressed.
In a further knock on the knuckles of Mottley, he said: “It is naive to say that we got this vast problem, but it can’t be addressed.”
However, he does see some validity in the argument by Opposition MP Kerrie Symmonds earlier this week when he warned that the country faces “a financial cliff from which we have to come back”.
“It is a $1.8 billion [problem] and there are going to be no solutions that are painless; some will be very unpopular,” warned Arthur.
Within the context of recent statements to the effect that the country now was now “broke”, Arthur also warned that “the last thing” Barbados should want to do now is to go to the International Monetary Fund, which he said “will be more painful than a tax on water or a tax on solid waste”.