Embattled Christ Church West Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Maria Agard has broken her recent silence, and is today strongly defending her stewardship in that southern riding, amid persistent reports of serious discontent in the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stronghold.
In an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY, Dr Agard contended that her work in the constituency, which she won by over 500 votes in the last general election, had been extensive. The first-time MP also said she was happy with all she had done since her election.
Highlighting a number of assistance programmes provided for constituents, in the areas of welfare, health care and housing, Dr Agard described her work as “very proactive and responsive”.
She also said there was “extensive” documentation of her work.
“The one thing I can say unequivocally is that my record of service is solid and I have evidence to prove it,” stressed Dr Agard, who spoke on the sidelines of a meeting with constituents who openly vented their frustrations to their MP over planned excavation work in the area.
The Christ Church West MP, who has recently come in for some very harsh criticism from some members of her executive branch who appear determined to see the back of the parliamentary representative, was equally adamant that she was going nowhere and intended to see out her parliamentary term.
Despite reported health challenges, Dr Agard, who is practising dentist, maintained that she had serviced the needs of her constituents over the past two years.
“We have brought much of their concerns to a favourable resolution and I am actually very happy that we have been able to achieve the level of representation that we have achieved thus far,” she told Barbados TODAY, while insisting that there were no outstanding welfare cases.
The Opposition MP also sought to compare her stewardship with that of senior members of the ruling Democratic Labour Party, while pointing out that she did not have a ministry at her disposal “to dispense the level of patronage that one would expect from a Government MP”.
“However, we have diligently established a relationship network with a number of Government agencies and with members of the private sector and in doing so, we have been able to achieve, through cooperation, a level of representation that allows us to service the constituency in the way that it needed to be serviced,” she said.
“We do not have any control over capital works but at least we make representation in that regard and then we await the response from the ministry,” she added.
The sitting BLP member also responded to internal critics who say she has not given enough support to fire victims.
She pointed out that there were only two fire victims last year and that both were assisted.
“We ensured that they had safe accommodation. We have worked with them, accompanied them to the Government agencies and wrote letters on their behalf, not only to Government, but also to the private sector. I can state emphatically that they are now comfortably settled,” said the Opposition MP.
“In addition to that, there are other residents who we came and found disenfranchised, and who were disenfranchised for several years before I became the representative. I have worked on those cases to a successful conclusion and even those individuals now have been housed,” she said.
Asked to respond to reports that a three member “wet nurse” committee had been established by party leader Mia Mottley — comprising party stalwarts Sir Henry Forde, Dame Billie Miller and Jimmy Serrao — with a view to overseeing her work in Christ Church West, Dr Agard said she had no knowledge of any such group.
However, the MP, who was reportedly hauled over the coals during a February 24 meeting attended by mostly Christ Church West executive members and chaired by the party leader at the Opposition Leader’s office, confirmed reports that she had subsequently dispatched a letter, dated February 28, 2015, to the secretary of the BLP’s 13-member parliamentary group, Gline Clarke, and copied it to Mottley, requesting an urgent meeting with her peers.
“We are in the process of convening that meeting and it is going to be convened as soon as possible because I do have a lot of support from the parliamentary representatives,” said Dr Agard.
This afternoon, Barbados TODAY canvassed two communities in the constituency to hear first-hand from residents, their take on the Dr Agard’s handling of the constituency, which she won with 2,340 votes ahead of the DLP’s Verla DePeiz, who got 1,808, and independent candidate Taan Abed with 374.
Most of them, including 54-year-old John Robertson of Rockley New Road, said they wished they could see Dr Agard more.
“I think she could do better if she had come around. I don’t think she is doing a good job campaigning,” Robertson said.
In Rendezvous, one resident, who only gave her name as Ms Phillips, said although she had no interaction with her MP and she didn’t know her personally, she still voted for her in the last election.
“Seeing her around I liked her, but I would hope to see the representative from time to time,” she said, adding that she did not “dive into politics” and therefore was not really aware of what Dr Agard was doing in the constituency.
Darron Hampden, an elderly resident of Rockley, said he was home most days and he would appreciate more interaction with his representative.
However, Howaida Weel lauded Dr Agard, saying she was “highly professional” and “she responds”. This, she said, was “in stark [contrast] to the Government”.
Fire victim Shirley Burt also confirmed that Dr Agard had immediately come to her rescue following a September 12, 2014 blaze, providing temporary accommodation and monetary grants. In fact, she described Dr Agard as “very helpful”, adding that even when the MP could not come in person, her secretary visited on her behalf.
“I don’t have any problem with her [Dr Agard] and I don’t see any reason why she should be changed,” Burt said, in response to rumoured interest by former Christ Church South candidate and BLP general secretary Dr Jerome Walcott in the Christ Church West constituency.
Dr Agard told Barbados TODAY that while she agreed that representation should involve socialization, there should also be a focus on “formal work that must be done diligently and efficiently”.
The BLP’s parliamentary group is due to meet on Monday.