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#BTEditorial – The Mottley coattail

by Barbados Today
6 min read

If there is one area for which the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP), under the stewardship of Prime Minister Mia Mottley, has been highly praised, it has been its handing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, there have been some missteps; some attempts to please everyone and as a result, made most discontented. There have been times when PM Mottley was personally upbraided for what some citizens characterised as her “talking down to them like little children”.

The viral videos from the average Joe last year, sent a message to Ms. Mottley. The messages were unpleasant, but she appeared to listen, publicly acknowledged the chastisement for what it was, and made some adjustments.

Mottley has led from in front, often taking to the cameras, in her own folksy, Bajan style to communicate with the man on the street.

She took the initiative and reached out very quickly and directly to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, seeking assistance with COVID-19 vaccines at a time when industrialised nations were hoarding the life-saving vaccines.

Those bold efforts resulted in a gift of 100 000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca, some of which we shared with our neighbours. Today, Barbados can boast that under the National Vaccination Programme, some 78 000 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. These include 60 443 people who have received both doses.

These are all great accolades that any political leader would want under her belt as her party inches closer to another general election.

As the Mottley-led BLP celebrates its third anniversary in office, the COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large. What the last three years have also displayed, is the stark reality that Mottley is the maximum leader of her party. She has taken full control of the institution and is shaping it in her image.

Mottley has been credited for shaking the long-held image, even if ostensibly, that the BLP was a party that looked out for big business and paid less attention to the masses.

Ironically, it was the Mottley and the BLP, while in opposition, who rubbished the Thompson/Stuart Democratic Labour Party (DLP) slogan that Barbados was “more than an economy, it was a society”.

The current administration has successfully snatched that subtext from the DLP and reshaped it, very convincingly. The BLP has taken on the image of the political party that looks out for the small man relentlessly slamming the former government for directing millions of dollars in state contracts to familiar big actors.

During the pandemic, Government delivered more than 60 000 care packages to homes across the island during the peak of layoffs and job losses. Small businesses received millions in direct assistance; it introduced the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Programme in response to the social and economic impact of COVID-19. The programme focused on re-engagement of workers in the tourism sector and put about $300 million at the disposal of the sector.

In addition, many self-employed persons who were ineligible for unemployment benefits from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), received a helping hand from the administration.

Even in the face of all this, the Mottley administration has been dogged by criticism that despite her embarrassment of riches at the polls with a 30 to zero win (with one defection), too often it appears to be a one-woman show.

As talk show host and University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Christina Hinds put it on the Brasstacks Sunday, the Prime Minister has had to jump in and put out too many fires that individual Cabinet members should have been addressing.

In addition, businessman Mark Maloney who became the BLP ,in the lead up to the 2018 general election, has seemingly become highly favoured in several public/private sector partnerships.

It has raised eyebrows given the virulent and often personal attacks that Maloney received on BLP platforms. Often criticized for getting too many Government contracts, it seems the pendulum is swinging Mr. Maloney’s way again.

“I have a little bit of concern about things that were previously criticised, and the same companies that were criticised and said to have monopolised some of these large projects, are still having access to large projects using the same rules and criticism which was launched when the BLP was in opposition,” Hinds pointed out on Sunday.

As the election fever begins to rise with less than 24 months before polls are constitutionally due, the United Progressive Party (UPP) under vice-chairman Lynette Eastmond also reminded Barbadians that the administration was relying too heavily on borrowed money from the IMF and worsening the country’s debt situation.

“From 2018, Government’s fundamental strategy seems to have been IMF prescriptions for debt and management and borrowing. The IMF is a bank and except for demanding loan conditions, will not tell Barbados how to grow its economy. Approval of loans by the IMF are not victories for the Barbados economy,” Eastmond warned.

But Mottley has a big personality. She has built strong online and social media capital which she will certainly begin employing in a more intensive way. She has even quietly reshaped a Government position into the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) brand which often comingles with the BLP brand.

Ms Mottley has a long coattail, and we expect that she will again drag many representatives back into the House of Assembly with her. What will be interesting is to how many, if any, will lose their grip while holding firmly to Mottley’s skirt.

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