A man unafraid to speak truth to power but one who was strategic in his actions.
That was the description of Owen Arthur that Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Barbadians should remember when recalling the contribution of the former St Peter MP and the longest serving Prime Minister of Barbados, who was laid to rest following a state funeral that started in Bridgetown and ended in the constituency he represented for 34 unbroken years.
In her tribute at the St Peter’s Parish Church, Mottley said: “His list of achievements was vast but no single one was perhaps as great, domestically, perhaps or as consequential to the average Barbadian, as the leadership he displayed in wrestling unemployment from over 25 per cent to under seven per cent.
“Early on, as he faced down the US Government in defence of our sovereignty on the now infamous Shiprider Agreement, he demonstrated that he understood and embraced fully the Barbadian tradition of courageous leadership in the international arena. He spoke truth to power, fought for fairness of treatment and stood firm on principle.
“Indeed, his advocacy for our rights and interests extended far beyond Barbados to embrace small states everywhere. This was perhaps best exemplified in the way he responded head-on to the unwarranted OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development] challenge to our financial services sector. Instinctively and strategically, he knew when and where and how loud to raise his voice, and, to this day, his peers in the cause still remember him with admiration for leading the charge on their behalf,” Mottley recalled.
At the same time, she said the former Prime Minister knew that “any victory against powerful interests was never absolute, and that small states like Barbados could not afford to drop their guard”.
Moreover, Mottley stressed on Arthur’s deep attention to policy, understanding that key policy decisions could mean the difference between success and failure for a small nation like Barbados.
“His genius was to see the big picture and to distil the issues with absolute clarity. In essence, he would set a line of march that most would willingly follow. And not simply because they believed in Barbados, but because his views on policy and strategic development were often rooted in sound principles,” she noted.
The Prime Minister also addressed Arthur’s commitment and sense of national duty, hinting that this sense of duty acted as a form of healing between the two of them after a very public rift had developed.
“That keen sense of duty of which I spoke, allowed us both to place the interest of the country as our guiding principle in coming back together in recent times to work on matters of great national and regional importance,” she disclosed.
According to Mottley: “During the last year, Owen willingly undertook assignments on matters of international trade policy and the preparations for the UNCTAD Ministerial [meeting] in Barbados; the design of a new industrial policy framework for Barbados; his hands-on role on the Jobs and Investment Council, bringing his ideas to the fore as we embarked upon the post-COVID rescue and recovery mission and ultimately the chairmanship of LIAT. And who could forget his forthright and feisty performance as the head of the Commonwealth Electoral Observer Mission to Guyana in March?
“Frequently over the last year, Owen and I resumed our long conversations on the state of the country and the region and on the global issues facing small states. We talked about the challenges and we shared experiences. Above all, we acknowledged the reality that we are truly in a relay race. I remember his abiding words to me, ‘Mottley – This is a lonely journey.”