As the public standoff within the Opposition Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) Christ Church West branch appears to be worsening, some executives of the branch are calling for the current BLP representative, Dr Maria Agard, to leave the party.
However, asked today whether he believed Agard was likely to cross the floor and join the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) or take up position next to former Prime Minister Owen Arthur on the independent benches, former BLP general secretary George Griffith said such a decision was “Agard’s, and hers alone”.
“She would have to determine, based on all the facts, whether she would wish to remain in the party. However, I think that the leadership has a duty to the party, its members and to Agard as well, to ensure that fairness is obtained and that the matter is approached even-handedly,” Griffith added.
His comments come against the backdrop of a bitter internal tussle that has seen the election of a new executive for the BLP’s Christ Church West branch in the absence of the parliamentary representative and following an aborted annual general meeting on September 20 that has best been described as “heated”.
Ever since then, Dr Agard has been refusing to work with the newly elected executive while pressing ahead with her job as parliamentary representative.
Agard, who has been criticised for working with the DLP Government on a football tournament for her constituency, was a no-show at last month’s BLP annual conference at the Christ Church Foundation School.
She also failed to show up at last week’s National Council meeting, which was convened by party leader Mia Mottley to address the current standoff.
This, after Mottley told party delegates at the BLP’s 77th annual conference on October 24 that the controversy would not be allowed to drag on and would be resolved soon.
“I give you the assurance that the matter of Christ Church West will be resolved well in advance before the next general elections, and it will be in the best interest of the Barbados Labour Party,” Mottley said then.
She also warned: “If healing does not happen, there are mechanisms and conventions within this party that provide for dealing with such scenarios,” while insisting at the time that there was no crisis within the BLP.
However, Mottley was also a no-show for a meeting this week with Agard to deal with the conflict. Wednesday’s meeting of the BLP’s National Council had to be cancelled after Mottley sent a letter to Agard indicating that she (Mottley) was unable to attend the talks at party headquarters at which MPs George Payne and Ronald Toppin were expected to accompany Agard.
Party stalwarts Sir Richard Cheltenham and Vic Johnson, a former Tom Adams-era Cabinet minister, were also due to participate as mediators in the 5 p.m. meeting, which highlighted a split in internal support for the two sides in the dispute.
Griffith said today the situation was becoming “increasingly embarrassing” and was “a sad reflection” on the party which he said had “an outstanding tradition of settling all issues, big and small, in a very dignified manner.
“I believe that time is of the essence and the longer the impasse drags on, the worse it is for all concerned,” he warned.
The former Government Senator further expressed concern about the length of time it was taking the party to have the matter resolved amicably, saying the situation called for decisive leadership.
“I think that some people are too hasty on the matter. Political leader, Mia Mottley, should put the matter in the hands of highly respected members of the party who have the capacity to settle such matters, so that whatever recommendations are made would be respected.”
Griffith, who served as BLP general secretary from 2010 to 2012, further pointed out that the party’s constitution makes provision for the handling of such impasses.
“If the constituency branch is of the view that the executive is not representing its will, then the branch can do something about it. Provision is made in the constitution and in the branch rules for the calling of an extraordinary general meeting at which specific issues can be addressed. I believe we should not give up on the process.”
At the same time, he is warning that any internal investigation must be “even-handed” and led by persons who enjoy the “utmost confidence” of Agard, the executive of the Christ Church West branch and the wider party.
“Ultimately, there needs to be respect on all sides and the interests of the party must be put before any personal interests,” he stressed.
Griffith, who at an earlier period of his career was a BLP candidate for St Philip North on three occasions, also suggested that the process must be transparent and that neither side in the current dispute over representation of the southern riding should feel disadvantaged.
Meanwhile, reacting to reports that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has been identified to replace former university lecturer in economics Sir Frank Alleyne as Chairman of the Government’s Council of Economic Advisors, Griffith said: “I believe Barbados would owe him a debt of gratitude if he puts all of the old political differences aside and accepts the post.
“To me, it is like asking any other Barbadian to make a contribution to the country. Ultimately, the decision is his, but I would think that as a patriotic Barbadian he would accept it. Whatever his decision we should respect it as I respect him.”