It’s not yet official but former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has confirmed to Barbados TODAY that he will be shortly lending his expertise to support the sputtering economic revitalization efforts of the Freundel Stuart administration.
Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler told yesterday’s news conference on the economy, three days following the sacking of Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell, that he was revamping the Council of Economic Advisers, with the intent of making an announcement shortly, and that Barbadians would be “generally happy” with the persons who have agreed to come on board in the national interest.
Mr Arthur is tipped to serve as chairman. Official confirmation of his appointment to this informal body, formerly headed by retired University of the West Indies economist Professor Sir Frank Alleyne, will undoubtedly receive the thumbs-up from most major interest groups, especially the private sector, which from time to time has expressed serious misgivings about the economic policy direction under Mr Sinckler’s watch.
As Mr Sinckler noted in a gleeful voice, most Barbadians will also be happy. However, for the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), from which Mr Arthur resigned two years ago amid seemingly irreconcilable differences with current leader Mia Mottley, the move most likely will be viewed with cynicism and suspicion.
As private sector confidence in particular is key to achieving sustained growth which is pivotal to turning around the economy, tapping Mr Arthur’s expertise and experience, even at this eleventh hour, represents a shrewd political move by the embattled Freundel Stuart administration. Mr Arthur’s presence, for sure, will give some much-needed credibility to and restore some confidence in the economic policy-making process, once the administration is willing to accept and act on the advice given.
Some political observers, however, will regard the seemingly reluctant embrace of Mr Arthur by the DLP as a case of eating humble pie, a tacit admission of failure on their part, and a political vindication of the former Prime Minister, seeing that the Dems had expended so much time and energy over the years seeking to discredit his credentials as a top-rated economist for political purposes. Indeed, the DLP fought the last general election on the argument that Mr Arthur was unsuitable to serve again as the country’s leader.
Just over a year ago, Barbados TODAY had reported that the DLP had approached Mr Arthur about serving in the said capacity. However, somewhere along the way, there was an unexplained change of heart. The decision to make this fresh approach, and Prime Minister Stuart’s approval, comes against the backdrop of great concern about a sharp deterioration in the country’s external position and the related consequences of running low on foreign reserves.
Mr Arthur is well qualified to serve and ought to be highly commended, for rising above the pettiness of the partisan politics, especially the past attempts to smear his professional reputation, and recognizing that he has a duty, as an elder statesman, to come to the service of the nation during what is undoubtedly one of its darkest hours in the post Independence experience.
Mr Arthur’s track record in government speaks for itself. While some critics blame him for increasing the national debt and contributing to the current problems, the fact of the matter is that Barbadians have confidence in his ability because they experienced generally good times during his tenure as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. His 14 years in office were characterized by persistent economic growth that redounded to the benefit of most Barbadians who fondly refer to that period as a time when they had “nuff” money in their pockets.
Now that Dems have finally come around to deciding that they too are going with Owen, Barbadians naturally will look forward to some improvement in their circumstances. It is not going to be a quick fix but with the right policies, an enabling framework for a more robust and sustained recovery certainly can be laid. However, time is not a luxury for the DLP whose fate will be decided in about a year when its mandate comes up for renewal in general elections. Considering their current unpopularity, the odds do not seem in their favour though surprises do occur in politics.
Life is full of ironies. With the DLP’s call-up of Mr Arthur to national service, given all the negative things that they said about him, it seems we have a genuine case of a stone that was rejected by the builder, ending up being seen as the chief cornerstone. We wish Mr Arthur well in this assignment. After all, his success is critical to the success of this fair land that we love and call home.