The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has all but thrown rookie candidate Ryan Straughn under the bus for suggesting privatization of the Transport Board.
Mere days after Member of Parliament for The City Jeffrey Bostic made it clear Straughn did not speak for the BLP on the issue, General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott went further by hinting that the party’s candidate in Christ Church East Central still had a lot to learn.
“Ryan Straughn is an economist, he is a young politician, he is new to politics. He gave a lecture, a lecture which was not edited and controlled by the party. He was allowed to give a lecture on his vision for Barbados, how he saw things going and he sees it in the terms of a technocrat,” Walcott said today at a press briefing at the party’s Roebuck Street headquarters to launch the BLP’s 79th annual conference.
Privatization of the Transport Board is a rather touchy subject with both the BLP and the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) going to great lengths in the last election to distance themselves from any suggestion that they would sell the loss-making entity.
Political pundits credit a television advertisement by the DLP claiming that the BLP would make pensioners pay bus fare as part of a privatization of the country’s transportation system, for the DLP’s victory.
In the advert, a Transport Board bus pulls up at a stop and a woman, depicting a pensioner, boards and presents her identification to the driver, who advises her that the new Government had privatized the Transport Board, therefore both students and pensioners were required to pay the fare.
A voice then warns that this is what will happen if the BLP is voted into office.
Clearly determined to avoid a repeat, the BLP is going out of its way to explain that it has no plans to place the Transport Board in the hands of the private sector, contrary to Straughn’s recommendation.
In fact, Walcott today insisted that Straughn never explicitly called for privatization of the Transport Board.
“Comrade Jeffrey Bostic was asked if this was a policy decision of the Barbados Labour Party and he was in fact correct [in stating that it was not]. Policies in the BLP are discussed and formulated at the level of the parliamentary group, where all of the individuals within that group have an opportunity to express that concern and the policy comes out of those deliberations. So Ryan Straughn is giving his perspective as a young person and as a technocrat and Bostic is telling you policy is decided within the party. At the moment the parliamentary group has not discussed those matters, but certainly we are working on those matters which will be revealed in the lead up to the elections,” the general secretary stressed.
Delivering the eighth Tom Adams Memorial Lecture last Tuesday to a gathering of largely BLP supporters at the Barbados Workers’ Union headquarters, Straughn suggested that privatization of the transport system was the way to go and that Government should leave ownership of public transportation in the hands of the private sector.
“When will we recognize that the Government of Barbados does not have to own a bus to deliver subsidized fares for any of its citizens?” the economist asked.
It was a question that clearly left the BLP’s top brass uncomfortable, not wishing to hand the struggling DLP an election issue on a platter.
And even though Walcott insisted the Opposition party would not muzzle Straughn or any of its candidates, the recurring theme was that the young economist did not speak for the party on this issue.
“Straughn was giving a lecture obviously under the auspices of the Barbados Labour Party. I gave the lecture last year and I don’t think that anything I said could have been said to be party policy at that point in time. So I don’t think it is fair to cloak him with that because that was not his intention.
“On the other hand the BLP is not one that is known for restraining comment, subdues persons and brings out the whip and chains to demand that persons adhere by party documents. I think the issue that Ryan was highlighting is that the Transport Board has serious issues, which must be addressed, and he was at pains to say that there is a need [for] thorough discussions,” the general secretary said.