With former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s tenure all but over as a parliamentarian, the people of St Peter, the constituency he represented for nearly 35 year, are hailing him as one of the greatest leaders the country has ever had.
Arthur had announced in July 2014 that he would leave the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), which he had led from 1994 to 2008, and again from 2010 to 2013, and would serve as an independent until the end of his term this year, before stepping down from elective politics.
However, he appeared to have brought his departure when he told Barbados TODAY on Monday on his way to Parliament: “Today I will be making my last speech ever . . . . I am retiring.”
He also made it clear yesterday when he addressed the House of Assembly that it was his farewell speech.
When Barbados TODAY visited St Peter today, the general feeling was that Arthur was an outstanding leader who had served the country well, but had not done quite enough for the constituency.
Among those sharing their views was long-time supporter Anthony Walker, who said the former Prime Minister would be missed.
“Mr Owen Arthur has represented St Peter for a number of years and for me he did a fantastic job for the country. As Prime Minister he did good for Barbados, so he will be missed for sure,” Walker said.
“We will miss him because he was just an excellent Prime Minister. I hope God Bless him in all that he does after politics.”
However, Walker, 67, said the former BLP leader did not do as much for the constituency since he became an independent legislator.
In fact, he said there was little that Arthur could point to as his achievements in the St Peter.
“To me though, since he wasn’t Prime Minister [anymore] he has not been representing the constituency like he use to before. I am still a diehard supporter of the Barbados Labour Party, but I will tell you he represented us, but he didn’t do anything for St Peter.
“If you look around St Peter it is the same way man, he didn’t do much for it. We had a jetty and now it is no use. For the 15 years he was here, in the last year he didn’t do much for St Peter,” Walker stressed, while adding that there was little independent parliamentarians could do because “you have no say, you don’t have a lot of influence, your voice is [as] dominant like water that don’t move”.
Another resident, Michael Clement, described the retiring Member of Parliament as “a good man” who knew about developing the country “more than the person that will run”.
“For the 14 years that he was Prime Minister with his administration he did a good job,” Clement said.
However, he said he was perturbed that Arthur had walked away from the constituency without helping his chosen successor in the BLP, Colin Jordan, to learn the ropes.
“I think though that just quitting isn’t the way to go. He should train the upcoming young man to develop this St Peter constituency. He should give Mr Jordan a couple tips and let him know the ropes. Just stepping away is like being a coward. I want him to pass on the information to Jordan and show him some techniques, so he can get his votes and go from there.”
Meantime, another constituent who did not wish to be identified, sang Arthur’s praises, saying the former Prime Minister was a man of his word, as he recalled the early 1990s when then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) cut the salaries of public servants by eight per cent at the height of austerity, and Arthur’s promise to restore the pay should he be voted in as the country’s leader.
“I got him class up as one of the greatest Prime Ministers. He is the only Prime Minister that get in power and tell the people of Barbados that if he gets in the eight per cent put on by Sandiford he would give them back. He is different to [Minister of Finance Chris] Sinckler that say he won’t cut and still send home people.”
Over at Fisherman’s Pub, the popular Speightstown restaurant, owner Clement Armstrong told Barbados TODAY he was grateful for all Arthur had done to bring about awareness of the parish.
“I want to thank Mr Arthur so much for putting St Peter on the map. When Mr Arthur took up the BLP no party in Barbados knew about St Peter,” Armstrong said.
However, he said Arthur, who first entered the legislature as a senator in 1983, and who had to fight two by-elections in 1984 before securing his place in Parliament as Member of Parliament for the area, could have done more to help develop Speightstown.
“I just think he should have done a little more in terms of putting a ferry to make Speightstown the second town. We should have also had about four Government offices down here. That is the only disappointment I have with Mr Arthur, but I thank him very much.
“I think he will be missed for sure because what he has done the rest couldn’t do. When our economy went down he used construction to move the economy forward,” the local restaurateur said.
After Burton Hinds, the BLP representative for St Peter at the time, quit in 1984 forcing a by-election, Arthur lost to Sybil Leacock of the Democratic Labour Party by a single vote.
However, the Supreme Court later ruled that election, which was held on July 19, 1984, was null and void because of errors made by election officials, and a second by-election was held on November 22, 1984, which Arthur won by just over 200 votes. He never lost another election.