One of the island’s newest political parties, the United Progressive Party (UPP), has secured a seat in the House of Assembly even before the general election is held.
Dr Maria Agard, who for the past two years, sat as an Independent Member of Parliament (MP) along with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, today announced she had joined the UPP and was its leader of Opposition Business in the House.
And as debate on the Appropriation Bill 2018 continued, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart welcomed Dr Agard and the UPP to the chamber, wishing the Christ Church West MP and her political leader, Lynette Eastmond, well.
The life of Parliament is expected to end soon, as the country awaits a date for the election, but Dr Agard had a blistering start in her new role, slamming the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP), which expelled her in November 2015 after a nasty row with BLP leader Mia Mottley, contending her former party should be held responsible for the sewage crisis on the south coast because it had mishandled the sewerage project from the beginning. She was also critical of the Stuart administration, noting that apologies were not enough.
“The sewerage system of the south coast did not start with the negligence of the Barbados Water Authority with this dispensation. It did not begin in 2015, neither did it start with the failure to maintain the equipment as suggested by the Opposition.
“The problem of the south coast sewerage treatment facility started from the beginning with its implementation in the late 1990s and early 2000,” she charged.
“The people of Christ Church West, the people of Harts Gap where I live . . . have been complaining about that sewerage system and that it was fundamentally flawed from the start,” Agard told the House, adding that legal action over the sewage problems started before the current administration came to power in 2008.
Contending that the system should not be regarded as obsolete after just 20 years, the new UPP legislator added: “After the expenditure of $139 million, in 2000,
what the people of the south coast received was nothing more than a primary treatment plant to serve a capacity of 3,000 households.”
Calling for compensation in the form of reduced taxes for affected households and businesses, Dr Agard insisted her constituents had suffered from the “fiscal inadequacies” of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the “well concealed infelicities” of the past BLP administration.
According to the first-term parliamentarian, constituents and business operators were upset and frustrated about having to “endure for far too long” a national crisis and public health concern that had disrupted their lives, “destroyed their businesses” and threatened their health.
Last December the High Court threw out legal action brought by Dr Agard challenging her expulsion from the BLP.
However, there had long been speculation that she would join the UPP, which has attracted a number of BLP rejects, many of whom are said to be at odds with Mottley.
The UPP leader, who was beaten by the DLP’s Dr David Estwick on the three occasions she contest general elections – in 2003, 2008 and 2013, – has been openly courting Dr Agard, who will likely come up against the BLP’s Dr William Duguid in Christ Church West.
Dr Duguid had held what has been a safe seat for the BLP, before quitting active politics in 2013, paving the way for Dr Agard. His return was described by political scientists Dr George Belle and Peter Wickham as sounding the death knell Dr Agard’s political career.
Today, she announced a series of proposals in Parliament, which closely resemble UPP manifesto pledges.
Among these were decriminalization of marijuana for personal and medical use, expunging the criminal records of people convicted for small amounts of marijuana, establishing a task force to examine marijuana use, emphasizing the creative industries as the new growth area for the economy, creating parish development committees and mediation centres and enacting freedom of information legislation.