The country’s lone independent Member of Parliament has condemned efforts by political opportunists in his constituency, who he claims are attempting to buy support from residents in a bid to replace him in Parliament at the next general election.
Opposition Leader and parliamentary representative for the St Michael West Constituency, Bishop Joseph Atherley told Barbados TODAY that over the past few months, his constituents said people hoping to gain popularity were attempting to court them with money.
“I can tell you that what I have heard thus far does not impress me. I have heard of money being spent in pursuit of popularity in the constituency. I think that’s unfortunate and I think it cheapens Barbadians. You cannot come with a view that people are like fouls or chickens and all you have to do is throw some scratch grain and they will come, simply because they come from poor circumstances.
“I don’t condone that and I think you have to help people in need, but I don’t think the pursuit of the privilege of representing people should be one that you engage in by simply throwing around money and boasting about your ability to appeal to people because you have the wealth capacity,” declared Atherley.
During a meeting of the BLP St. Michael West branch earlier this month, Director of Cricket at the Barbados Cricket Association, Steven Leslie and entrepreneur, Christopher Gibbs offered themselves as nominees to lead the constituency into the next general election, under the BLP’s banner.
Both men declared that they have been drawing on their own resources to assist needy constituents with pressing concerns which urgently needed addressing.
“I don’t know if it is those two individuals,” said Atherley, “but I have heard some other names mentioned that are trying to court support by use of financial resources and that is not good for Barbados’ politics. We need to get away from that.”
The Opposition Leader, who recently signalled his intention to formalize a new political party, cautioned hopefuls against taking for granted, constituents’ loyalty to the ruling party.
“The party can choose somebody to represent their interest in the constituency, but they cannot choose somebody to represent the constituency of St. Michael West. I am the duly elected representative.
“If two people have come forward, I think that is good. It is good when people can offer themselves to serve in the interest of others. I wish them well, but they will not find it a task as easy as they think to replace Joseph Atherley in the hearts of the people when the time comes for a vote to be expressed.”
While efforts to reach BLP hopeful, Christopher Gibbs have been unsuccesful, Steven Leslie has dismissed any suggestion that Bishop Atherley might have been referring to him.
He also argued he has been actively involved in the constituency from as far back as 1997 and will continue to be guided by principles of “trustworthiness, accountability and transparency”.
“The comments made about individuals who might be involved in trying to purchase the support of St. Michael West cannot be associated with Stephen Leslie, because my focus has always been about winning the confidence of people.
“The reality is that within any race, people will adopt different strategies. I have heard rumors of people engaging in certain activity, but it is certainly nothing that Stephen Leslie has ever been or will ever be involved in as I have my political aspirations for the constituency of St. Michael West or representation in any other form or fashion within the Barbadian political landscape,” said Leslie.
Atherley, who shortly after last year’s general election crossed the floor of Parliament, also defended his leadership in his constituency amid accusations of abandonment.
“I can’t tell you what transpired at the BLP branch meeting. If there is confusion in the BLP leadership, I can’t speak to that. But I can tell you that as elected by the people of St. Michael West, to represent the interest of the people in St. Michael West, that I have been doing that ever since. I have been doing that since 1999 and 2008 when I was a Member of Parliament. I did it between 2008 and 2018 when I was not a Member of Parliament. I kept my constituency office open, I kept seeing people, I kept sponsoring events, I kept celebrating constituents and finding jobs for people and a large part of what I did came out of my own pocket or support which I found on my own.
“I did that while I was not a Member of Parliament, so why wouldn’t I do that now that I am a Member of Parliament?” he asked.
“I would challenge any Member of Parliament to suggest that he or she has done that to a greater extent than I have.
“Obviously some people who do not understand, may think that I did something which would not have been expected, but what I have done, I did in the greater interest of St. Michael West and in the interest of the wider Barbados. I will not abandon them, because they first elected me, they re-elected me and respected me when I was not formally the MP and I have continued to serve their interests,” he said.