Some nine years ago while in one of his more combative incarnations, former prime minister Owen Arthur described the Lower House then controlled by prime minister David Thompson’s Democratic Labour Party as a “poor-rakey parliament”. Never one to mince words, Mr Arthur was commenting on the quality of the sitting members, and by logical extension, the entire Cabinet of Barbados. There are many Barbadians who might be inclined to seek his assessment of the current Chamber.
There is a school of thought, and we note with more than passing interest, that Prime Minister Mia Mottley has seemingly been working beyond the call of duty. Since May 24, 2018, she has displayed an energy and keenness for hands-on leadership that has seen her superintending almost every ministry of Government. Many have accused her of micro-management and being a leader too swift to jump into the operations of the portfolios of ministers under her charge. And this raises several questions. From the beginning of her tenure Miss Mottley, in justifying her huge Cabinet, said that many hands made for lighter work. But, ironically, if her almost non-stop activity and intrusions into multiple ministries can be taken as a gauge, it appears that the many hands around her in Cabinet have made for harder work. Has Miss Mottley’s Cabinet colleagues given her reason to be confident in them? Is she forced to micromanage because of any perceived ineptness of some of those around her?
There have been occasions where Miss Mottley has had to make decisions that one would have expected members of her Cabinet to take the lead. With motorists facing that draconian $5 000 fine, 12-month imprisonment, or both, for not having a registration sticker affixed to their rear registration number plate by the September 30 deadline, Miss Mottley announced today that the period for motorists to complete the registration exercise would be extended by a month. But where was her Minister of Transport, Works and Maintenance Dr William Duguid? Could he not have taken the lead on making this decision? Why would the Prime Minister of any country have to step in to make such a basic decision on a situation that became evident on Monday? Miss Mottley’s need to micromanage and make seemingly simple decisions has not been lost on others on the political front.
Speaking today on the issue, Leader of the Opposition Bishop Joseph Atherley also drew attention to Miss Mottley taking up additional administration duties. He expressed disappointment that Mr Duguid was not the one to make the call on the extension. “I am in total agreement with her. But I don’t know why the Prime Minister had to get involved in those things. Ministers surely should be able to oversee those processes. That is an administrative thing, almost clerical. The Prime Minister does not have to come and intervene in those matters. But it seems she must intervene if they are to get done and that is a little bit disappointing,” the St Michael West MP said.
Prime Minister Mottley has had to take the lead in matters related to the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, the Ministry of Youth and Community Empowerment, the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, the Ministry of Home Affairs, among others. And in each ministry, there are basically two ministers – the lead minister and his or her shadow. The workload that Miss Mottley is undertaking and her need seemingly to intervene in other ministries – with the notable exceptions of the Ministry of Housing, Lands and Rural Development and Ministry of Tourism and International Transport – are arguably ample evidence that the number of constituencies and by extension their parliamentary representatives are simply too many for such a tiny island.
Miss Mottley recently stated that her mantra was basically, “I don’t talk, I do”. Perhaps, she needs more “doers” around her to ease her obviously heavy workload. But there have been suggestions by some political thinkers and historians that Miss Mottley’s approach to leadership might be a mix of necessity and deliberateness. Author Robert Greene once wrote in relation to maintaining power that everything was judged by its appearance. What was unseen counted for nothing, he said. “Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colourful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses,” Greene suggested.
Whatever is the motivation, it could be argued that while Miss Mottley continues to loom large on Barbados’ political landscape by the sheer weight of her drive and industry, many of those around her might be providing ammunition for an updated assessment of our present Parliament by the former prime minister Owen Arthur.