There is something deliciously – and sometimes comically – schizophrenic about the politics of Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss, his position on issues varying with the wind, his actions frequently belying his words.
For example, in the form of schizophrenia he tends to display, Mr Inniss will in one moment rail against the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and increases in the excise duty on petrol, complaining that his constituents will be hurt, yet sit idly by and allow Parliament to approve the austerity Budget that heaps pain on the very constituents he represents, seemingly without an ounce of remorse.
In his latest episode of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the minister adopted the persona of a reflective and compassionate leader in tune with the needs of workers and the interests of the trade unions.
In a Wizard of Oz-type fantasy, he pictured himself as Prime Minister sitting with the unions in a frank discussion about the state of affairs.
He said he would talk about merging, restructuring or closing several state enterprises that were “just not socially or financially viable for society at large as currently structured and operated”. He would also discuss “as a matter of urgency [how] to move more of our citizens from being employees to being shareholders”.
“If I was afforded the opportunity to meet with the trade unions, this is what I would be discussing – not just salary increases or the NSRL. This is also how we work towards an expansion of our tax base and a reduction in taxes whilst at the same time creating intergenerational wealth. I want to see clerical officers talking about share value and dividends – the things owners talk about – not just about vacation leave, sick leave or pensions,” he stated on Wednesday.
It was a different Mr Inniss, who had shredded the very unions as they prepared to march, first on their own, then with the private sector, against the very NSRL about which he had complained, calling the first march nothing more than a weight loss exercise, and describing the unions as anti-worker and demanding an apology from them on behalf of workers, ahead of their planned demonstration.
This time Mr Inniss was adamant the NSRL, along with the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and increases in the excise duty on petrol announced in the May 30 Budget, were necessary.
It is instructive to note that in addition to being a fantasy musical, the Wizard of Oz was also a dramedy, and there was no lack of drama in the speech delivered by the minister on Wednesday.
He could not have been any more transparent in his attempt to position himself as a replacement for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart should the opinion polls hold true and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) loses the next election.
Having seen his Cabinet colleague Dr David Estwick – who had also criticized the austerity Budget before voting for it – get out of the starting block and openly state his readiness to lead both the DLP and the country, Mr Inniss clearly attempted to set himself apart as a man with a vision to take this country forward.
His reference to a new Barbados where high taxes were no longer, state agencies were fewer and workers were wealthier because they were also business owners was nothing but a policy position made clear, something Dr Estwick had failed to do.
Inniss’ vision of himself meeting the unions seemed designed to show that he was different from his boss. In fact, the entire speech appeared to have been choreographed to demonstrate that Mr Inniss is no the coiffed face of Mr Stuart.
And in many ways, he is not. While Mr Inniss has a propensity to talk on any subject Stuart certainly does not.
But while Mr Inniss sounded refreshingly candid at first, particular against the backdrop of an administration that says little to nothing to the country, as he continues to talk, his eagerness to replace, if not displace, Stuart has become more blatant.
Maybe he simply needs to change the script, or for once, maybe, just maybe, Mr Inniss needs to say nothing.