Former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) leader Owen Arthur has suggested that he was not the one who cost the Opposition the last election, instead pointing an accusing finger at the BLP’s current leadership.
Arthur said it was really his successor Mia Mottley who was responsible for making the vexed issue of privatization a campaign issue in 2013, an admission that this was the pivotal matter that led to an unexpected defeat.
“I have taken a bum rap. Many people felt that I cost the Barbados Labour Party the last election by putting privatization on the table,” he told Barbados TODAY in an interview this week in which he sought to set the record straight on the breakdown of his relationship with the parliamentary Opposition.
Arthur, an avid supporter of privatization, said while his focus during his time as this country’s Minister of Finance was on divesting those elements of the financial sector which he felt did not need to be in the hands of Government, the BLP was “stampeded” by Mottley in 2013, who he claimed went before Parliament without reference to her colleagues with an election position on the issue.
“We heard for the first time on the floor of the House that the Labour Party was going to sell the airport and the seaport and then we also heard that the Labour Party would have taken the Transport Board and the sanitation authority and either sold or given the trucks to the men to run.”
However, Arthur said, based on his previous discussions with former union boss Sir Roy Trotman, “this was never the position of the Barbados Labour Party”.
On the contrary, he said the BLP’s position was that “you have a Transport Board with a modest subsidy, but it had to transform its operations and finds a way to link with private transport”.
“As for [divestment of] the Sanitation Service Authority, that came out of left field as far as we were concerned and we were trapped with that . . . Mia made it a people’s issue rather than a financial issue,” Arthur said, while suggesting that he had willingly taken the blame for her.
“If you want to blame me, blame me! My back is broad. But that is part of the history that men in the party and I continue to talk about. We were blindsided by that. But I don’t think I should have thrown Mia under the bus then, as I have not tried to throw Mia under the bus now,” he added.
As for the current approach needed to be taken with respect to divestment, the former Prime Minister said Barbados had to be “sensible” about privatization, as he reiterated his well-known position that “all [it] means is that you are getting things done in the public sector that can be done in the private sector.
“But what we have to do is to condition ourselves to the fact that the assets that are going to be sold are going to be here,” he added, while appealing for “all of the scare tactics” to stop, otherwise “the country is going to collapse around our ears”.
The former Prime Minister made it clear he did not believe in privatization of the Margaret Thatcher variety “which sets out just to destroy workers”, even while warning Government that there could be no running away from the issue, which goes against all that they had said during the last elections.
“The Government is committed to doing it, but the only reason they are not doing it is because they embarrassed themselves in the election campaign, having themselves said they are not going to privatize, sent an old lady called Ms Mapp, who is my friend, to curse me and say, ‘Owen Arthur is trying to take money out of my pocket,’” Arthur told Barbados TODAY.
However, he said based on his experience, privatization has worked in this country’s favour.
He pointed out that “the Democratic Labour Party privatized Heywoods before, the [Barbados] Labour Party privatized the two banks [Barbados National Bank and the Insurance Corporation of Barbados], the Democratic Labour Party is now privatizing the [Barbados National Terminal Company Limited], it has privatized part of the Gems of Barbados, so it can’t be if we are opposed to it; it is how best we can do it and that should be the discussion in Barbados”.
In the case of BNB, the former Minister of Finance repeated his oft stated position that it went from a loss-making bank to a profitable entity in which Government’s 20 per cent stake was worth more than its 100 per cent stake before its sale, “and rather than lose jobs, it now employs twice as much people”.
He also took a swipe at local trade unions for their stance on the matter, saying he was surprised to hear the Barbados Workers Union saying it was opposed to all forms of privatization.
“They were not when Mr Trotman and I sat down and we agreed that the Transport Board had to be concerned with its core business [and that] it had no business trying to run a mechanical workshop; that we would create a new entity called UCAL where the workers would own it. I decided to put money in it on the part of the Government and Mr Trotman was then very comfortable with privatizing part of the Transport Board,” Arthur recalled.
He also asked: “Didn’t the NUPW [National Union of Public Workers] also take over part of the Insurance Corporation of Barbados?
“So that when people are telling you that we are opposed to X but they are doing it, I regard that as a contaminated moral and intellectual environment,” he said.