It is an intriguing twist of fate, perhaps, that in this 52nd year of Independence, Barbados is not only being led by its first female Prime Minister, Mia Amor Mottley, but the Prime Minister-in-waiting is also the first woman to head the party which took this country into independence.
Verla De Peiza, a relatively young attorney-at-law who is president and political leader of the 63-year-old Democratic Labour Party (DLP), founded by the Father of Independence and National Hero Errol Walton Barrow, has been giving some forthright views on the good, the bad and the ugly of this sovereign nation, and her views on its future.
She even disagreed with a major pre-general election public pledge announced by her immediate predecessor and former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. But we will get to that later.
Of course, De Peiza did not let us forget that Barrow was the first Prime Minister of an independent Barbados and that he became the central figure between 1966 and his death on June 1, 1987, having introduced national insurance, free education and oversaw the introduction of full and free access to health care and the establishment of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
“We started making changes to family life. So the Democratic Labour Party had a major hand, not only in the act of independence, but the first few years of our development. Some would say that they laid the foundation too, for the building of a middle class. I would be honest enough to say that is something that has happened over time and, quite frankly, is still happening all now,” the DLP leader said.
However, she said the island has not yet reached an equilibrium regarding its middle class, suggesting there was still some work to do.
On the question of a republican system of government for Barbados—an issue which neither of the two major parties has pushed as a priority—De Peiza said such a system mattered to her.
“Anything that carries the vestiges and stigma of slavery…We are not looking to rewrite history, we are not looking to in any way revise history…but we are just looking to put a full stop on a particular chapter in our lives. And yes, I lean towards the republic, but I recognize that it has never been a driving force for Barbadians. But I do lean towards a republic,” she declared.
De Peiza was then asked to turn her attention to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which has been critical of Barbados for the long delays in concluding court cases or bringing matters to trial.
She was asked to reconcile her predecessor’s public pronouncement leading up to the May 24 general election that, if his DLP was returned to power, he would pull Barbados out of the CCJ, after accusing this island’s final court of appeal of being political in its treatment of Barbados.
Her response revealed that she was not singing from the same hymn book as her former leader.
“I don’t feel any need to reconcile. He is a lawyer just like I am. He was the leader of the party at the time and I was not. And he had a right to an opinion. But having said that, I think that any person who has any level of involvement in politics, whether it is as a politician, as a journalist, as an ordinary citizen, they all know that that part [declaring one’s intention to pull out of CCJ] is easy,” she said, arguing that the process of actually achieving that would be a long, tedious and complex one.
“You have to have your Cabinet feeling the same way that you do. It wasn’t even in our manifesto. There would be a process to make that change…and it would require a lot more than a simple pronouncement on a platform. So I don’t have any difficulty in holding a different view,” contended the political leader of the party which ruled this country between January 2008 and May 2018.
As though striking a conciliatory note here, De Peiza suggested that the legal profession would not succeed if lawyers like she and Stuart did not have differing opinions.
“I am convinced that democracy cannot work if you don’t have different views. So I am not feeling like I have been put on the spot. We are all entitled to our opinion and then the majority will rule,” she concluded in a more defiant tone.
The political leader also touched on the hot topic of educational reform, a subject on which she insisted she has never hidden her views.
She is of the strong belief that Barbados has been placing too much reliance on academia and too little on technology.
“I have always felt that the almost exclusive reliance on academia was not going to take us very far. The world has faced towards technology and we should never have been chasing it,” she suggested.
She recalled back in the early 1990s, a Professor Headley was pushing Barbados towards using the sun. She said that while the country had only bought into solar water heating, the professor had already established two solar-powered houses—one on the east coast and the other in Queen’s Park—demonstrating that using the sun was not just about boiling water.
“And we let that slip out of our grasp,” she lamented.
The DLP president went on to delve into a controversial topic.
“I have never hidden my personal opinion on this, and you can write this down as a personal opinion because the party, as far as I am aware, has never canvassed a position on this one. And that is, as a region, we also let the development of marijuana slip out of our grasp.”
De Peiza insisted that the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica has been leading the charge on marijuana since the 1970s.
“And we let that ball slip. We have made a lot of progress, but it is time to pause and think…what we have, how do we tinker with it to carry us another 50 years forward. I was very pleased to support the move in education towards introducing CVQs in all secondary schools. I also support the move to amalgamate Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, Barbados Community College and Samuel Jackman Prescod as the University College of Barbados, so long as it is going to have a technical focus. If we are going to have another academic institution, then I don’t see the need for it,” De Peiza added.
She is of the view that Barbados should not be creating generations of civil servants, but of thinkers.
De Peiza believes the country has made strides locally, regionally and internationally, all because of being an independent nation.
“Our people are better off now than they were then in terms of the opportunities that they had in society…opportunities to own property…Because we are small, those opportunities would not have been the same, say, in Jamaica which has a greater land mass. There are opportunities to operate on the world front. Again, I think through independence we are better able to spread our wings. Our opportunities to have a voice when we go to the international fora, we would not have had that without independence,” she contended. (EJ)