Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick has dismissed as a “non-issue”, his own directive to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) nearly five years ago.
In what appeared to be an escalating rift between Dr Estwick and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, the Minister of Water Resource Management barred management and staff of the BWA from attending certain meetings called by Sinckler.
The correspondence dated September 8, 2011 and addressed to then Executive Chairman Arnie Walters, reads: “With immediate effect, I am instructing that no member of the management or staff of the Barbados Water Authority is to attend any Project Review Committee meetings conveyed by the current Minister of Finance, the Honourable Christopher Sinckler.”
Dr Estwick also advised the BWA team that they were only to attend such meetings if they were called by the Prime Minister.
“This directive will remain in force until such time as you are advised otherwise by the Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management. Please be guided accordingly,” the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY, concluded.
However, the minister, who has had his share of spats with Sinckler, including public disagreements over funding for the now troubled Barbados Cane Sugar Restructuring Project and the country’s debt, has now said the letter was of no consequence and it had not affected his relationship with the Minister of Finance.
In fact, he told Barbados TODAY that it was the news media that had made an issue of it.
“That is a non-issue. The media made it an issue. That letter was not made an issue by Chris Sinckler and it wasn’t made an issue by me. The media made it an issue and I am telling you that is a non-issue. It is not important, it is not relevant, it is not pertinent and it has not affected the relationship between Sinckler and myself or any relationship within the Democratic Labour Party (DLP); and that’s all I can really say about that,” Dr Estwick, who political observers believe coveted the finance ministry, insisted.
Twenty four hours earlier when Barbados TODAY asked him about the correspondence, Dr Estwick explained that the conditions which existed in 2011 and would have prompted him to write it, no longer existed.
However, he would not say what those conditions were.
“That was 2011 and this is 2016. Obviously, the conditions that would have led to my making that determination do not exist,” the usually outspoken minister said.
Pressed to say whether he had withdrawn the letter, the minister refused to be drawn into that discussion, preferring instead to return to the theme of the conditions without revealing much.
“I am not going to say ‘no longer in force’. What I am saying is, the conditions . . . that created the need for that type of decision, does not exist.”
Stating that there were a set of conditions that existed at the time that required the BWA to be managed in a particular way, Dr Estwick said he was weary of responding to every accusation “because when you say A, somebody spin it to B and somebody spin it to C and D and it continues all the time”.
The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has repeatedly contended that the two ministers did not get along and that their relationship was having a negative impact on Dr Estwick’s ministry.
And it was the BLP which brought the existence of the letter to the public’s attention when Opposition Leader Mia Mottley referred to it during an addressed at a meeting of the party’s St Philip West branch on Wednesday, April 27 at the George Walters Primary School, where entertainer John King was nominated as the BLP candidate for the constituency in next elections.
At that meeting, Mottley claimed that Barbadians in rural parishes had been suffering from water shortages because of the fractious relationship between the two ministers.
“A memo that is unheard of in the annals of public records in this country, instructing public servants not to attend any meetings with the Minister of Finance. Now, who suffers? He has responsibility for the Barbados Water Authority. That memo came three, four years ago, around the last elections. And since then what has happened [is] that one in every four Barbadians cannot rely on a reliable water supply largely because a Minister of Finance and a Minister of Water are at each other’s throats on a daily basis,” the Opposition Leader charged.