By Anesta Henry
A momentous general election aside, the political scene in 2018 saw strange and tumultuous events, from a crossing of the floor of Parliament unique in the annals of political history, to a former Minister of the Crown finding himself facing criminal charges, to the resignation of a party leader following an unprecedented defeat at the polls.
The scene was also marked with anxious moments, as Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw announced to the nation that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and required treatment.
On May 31, as the newly-elected St Michael West Member of Parliament, Bishop Joseph Atherley severed ties with the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP). In a brief statement, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley revealed that she was informed by letter from Atherley of his intention to serve in Opposition to the Barbados Labour Party Government.
This historic crossing of the floor took many by surprise and was on the lips of Barbadians, with some suggesting that someone was needed on that side of the aisle, others proposing that he may have done it for his own selfish intentions, and still others questioning whether he was still a member of the BLP which won all 30 seats in the May 24 General Elections.
But in an astonishing twist, the Opposition Leader suggested that he has no immediate plans to quit the BLP.
And Atherley refused to rule out the possibility of contesting the next general election on a BLP ticket. The Opposition Leader informed that his party membership was moot since crossing the floor was tantamount to severing ties with the governing party. He went further to suggest that what people have been harping about is whether he had written a formal letter of resignation to the BLP or whether the party had written a ‘dismissal’ letter to him.
Atherley was quick to note that constitutionally, political parties are not recognized within the halls of Parliament.
But he was also quoted in the Sunday Sun newspaper as indicating a willingness to hand in his resignation, providing that it was the will of his constituents – a report which he later said was a mischaracterisation of his statement.
Atherley did not reveal details of a discussion he had with constituents but he assured that they were firmly in his corner.
When questioned about whether he planned to contest the next general election as part of the BLP team, the ordained bishop said he would await a call from Heaven, noting that he would go where God leads him and listen for the call of the people.
In response to rumours that his decision to cross the floor was orchestrated by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, Atherley said: “Don’t even raise that…. It is nonsense. It is insulting to me. I think it is really insulting to the former Prime Minister who held office for 14 years and did a fantastic job.”
Prime Minister Mottley suggested that constituents should have the right of recall, and suggested that if crossing the floor was Atherley’s intention, he should have communicated that to his constituents before Election Day. The Prime Minister also said the decision raised the issue of trust, and noted that it must be asked whether “we are doing a disservice by allowing this to fester rather than treating to the right of recall for those who cross the floor”.
In a televised interview, the Prime Minister also questioned the manner in which Atherley went about the process, especially in light of the fact that he was elected a BLP representative, after having campaigned heavily on the party’s platform.
During a budget debate, St Andrew MP George Payne lashed out at Atherley for making the move, asking the Opposition leader whether or not he was still a member of the BLP. Payne, the Chairman of the BLP, asked Atherley whether he resigned from the party, while suggesting that he was not prompting the man of the cloth to do so, but would rather leave it to his conscience.
In the interim, the BLP had already started the process of selecting a new candidate to replace the current MP.
At the party’s 80th annual conference at The Lodge School, St John, in late October, members gave their political leader, Prime Minister Mottley, the go-ahead to select a future candidate for the St Michael West Constituency.
A resolution to this effect received unanimous approval and support of conference delegates attending the three-day meeting, according to a statement from the BLP.
The BLP’s constitution provides that the party leader, in exceptional circumstances, can select a candidate to represent the constituency. The resolution authorizes Prime Minister Mottley to select the candidate after consultation with the executive of the constituency branch.
When contacted, branch president John Bancroft said the consultation had already taken place. When pressed to say whether the new candidate had been selected, Bancroft replied “no, not as yet, we are in the process now”.
And while the BLP prepares to present the people of St Michael West with a fresh face, the people have had their say on the matter. Some constituents believe they currently have no representation, with some people saying they have not seen Atherley since the May general election.
Some constituents appeared upset at Atherley’s decision to cross the floor in the way he did, but there were a few who said they were backing the Opposition Leader.
The defeated Democratic Labour Party (DLP) suggested that Bishop Atherley has proven himself to be neither fish nor fowl as far as his functioning as Opposition Leader is concerned.
The DLP said it was looking into the appointment owing to the phenomenon that the Leader of the Opposition is still a member of the BLP.
Then came another unprecedented event – the indictment of a former cabinet minister on criminal money laundering charges.
Defeated on May 24 as St James South MP and Minister of Industry, Donville Inniss would also made his mark on the political scene when he was indicted for money laundering bribes in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6.
The indictment, sealed on March 15, more than two months before Inniss and the DLP were swept out of office, alleges that in 2015 and 2016, the minister took part in a scheme to launder into the United States approximately $36,000 in bribes that he received from high level executives of a Barbadian insurance company, which was not named in the indictment, but later revealed to be the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL).
In return, Inniss would use his office to cause the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation, a state-owned enterprise under his ministerial portfolio, to renew insurance contracts of almost $1 million with the local insurance company.
US law enforcement officials charged that to conceal the bribes, Inniss arranged to receive the funds through a US bank account in the name of a dental company, which had an address in Elmont, New York.
In a release issued by the Department of Justice on August 6, assistant attorney general Brian A. Benczkowski of the US Department of Justice’s criminal division said: “As charged in the indictment, Inniss abused his position of trust as a Government official.”
Inniss, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, is confined to New York and wears an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Inniss is due to return to court soon, but Attorney General Dale Marshall urged Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, to launch an investigation into the allegations of bribery involving Inniss and the Bermuda owned ICBL.
But Commissioner Griffith said someone would first have to report a crime to the police to trigger an investigation by white-collar crime unit detectives.
And while the Attorney General cannot legally instruct the police to press any criminal charges – a job reserved for the independent Director of Public Prosecutions – he described Griffith’s attitude as unfair. Marshall noted that the alleged victims in this case are the people of Barbados who paid their money into the insurance company.
Weighing in on the developments, which he said were negative publicity for Barbados, former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said the DLP must wish Inniss well, respect the fact that the matter is sub judice, and do or say nothing to imperil his entitlement to a fair trial.
The former Prime Minister addressed the issue at the 63rd annual conference of the DLP, held at the party’s George Street Auditorium on August 12.
Stuart stressed that like every other accused person, Inniss is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Noting that issues of corruption have always been discussed across Barbados’ political landscape, Stuart reminded the packed auditorium that throughout his entire incumbency as Prime Minister, he had always exhorted the people of the country to set high standards for themselves, and with resolve pursue those standards.
Stuart, who frankly accepted full responsibility for the DLP’s defeat, announced that he would be stepping down as party president.
Stuart, served as president for eight years, said that with courage and commitment, the DLP will get its act together to come back and become the “potent, credible and influential political force that it has always been known to be”.
Attorney-at-law and defeated Christ Church West candidate, Verla De Peiza was voted in as the new president of the DLP, three months after Stuart announced that he would stepping down.
De Peiza, who was elected unopposed, said while the party is recovering from the 30-0 defeat, it is preparing to unveil a new face soon. The newly-elected President defended her party’s legacy, saying that while the message Barbadians sent to the DLP on May 24 was clear, no one could disregard the progress the party haf made for the country over the last ten years.
But Depeiza admitted the philosophies of the 63-year-old party needed to be properly critiqued and analysed for its future. She said the party was in the process of reshaping to ensure that the DLP can be the ‘people’s party of choice’ once again.
Commenting on her ascent to party power, political scientist Peter Wickham contended that Depeiza possesses the qualities to weather the storms of taking the party forward at a low ebb in its history, noting that among the most important attributes of the new leader are her youth and relative inexperience in politics.
Wickham also contended that De Peiza was also sufficiently distanced from the “gang of 16” – parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers who all lost their House of Assembly seats.
But, veteran observer Dr George Belle said the party had to elect someone to the presidency given the timing of the annual conference and did not view her ascension as significant.
From a gender perspective, Depeiza’s election as DLP leader is a landmark for women in politics, which comes three months after the first female opposition leader became the first women to lead the country as Prime Minister.
Then came another bombshell. Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw revealed to her constituents on August 19, that doctors have discovered she had breast cancer in its early stages.
The 42-year-old minister has the backing Prime Minister Mottley and cancer survivor Dame Billie Miller in her vow to stay on the job and beat the illness. In an upbeat tone, Bradshaw declared she would beat cancer and urged her constituents not to worry as she considered the disease no less challenging than her political foes. Stressing that cancer was not a death sentence, Bradshaw told constituents that while she wanted them to be able to hold her hand as she has held theirs, she sought no sympathy.
The St Michael South East MP noted that she now had the responsibility to be the voice of men and women and families who are going through similar issues to be able to let them know that even as a servant of the public that politicians fall down too.
A 25-year breast cancer survivor, BLP stalwart Dame Billie Miller, in a pep talk to the stricken MP’s supporters, reinforced the notion that breast cancer need not be a death sentence. The Prime Minister praised Bradshaw for her extraordinary display of courage and supported the minister’s intention to stay at her post.
Former St Michael South East MP Hamiliton Lashley was not amused with DLP General Secretary Guyson Mayers’s call to gear up for a possible by-election because of Bradshaw’s illness. Mayers told party faithful at a meeting of the DLP’s three St Philip constituency branches that a MP is very ill and the party should be in a state of readiness should a by-election is called.
But Lashley contended that any talk of a by-election is out of sync with reality, and is in poor taste. He said he believes that all parties should be wishing the sick person well.