A Bajan Cabinet minister 'at war' with himself
AT a season of ferocious criminality, with murders and rapes rocking Caricom states like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Guyana, and when politicians and parties across the political divide should be engaged in focusing on practical initiatives to combat the crime epidemic, Barbadians are caught up with the charade of an internal conflict in the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
I say charade because the primary personality at the centre of the current controversy, Dr David Estwick, minister of agriculture, seems to be at war with himself. This comes when the Administration of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is desperately seeking to resolve a serious lingering fiscal deficit problem that has already led to the start of some 3,000 public sector workers being sent home, amid efforts to also stave off feared devaluation of the Barbados dollar (50 cents to the USD).
In a multi-party parliamentary democracy it is the norm for MPs and Cabinet ministers to face criticisms, at times quite harsh, from political opponents, in addition to the occasional verbal swipes from within their own party ranks.
It is, however, a rarity for a senior Cabinet minister and politician of long standing, like Dr Estwick, to unwittingly convey to the public the unmistakable impression of being at war with himself.
A consequence, I think, of his recurring, puzzling passion to make contradictory public statements about policies and programmes of the DLP of which he remains a high-profile and controversial minister.
As a citizen of Guyana, I long ago became familiar with health experts' responses to a so-called 'foot-and-mouth' disease affecting beef cattle and other livestock. From that development flowed the teasing rhetoric against politicians who are viewed as suffering from a "foot-in-mouth" problem whenever they are perceived to have fumbled or stumbled into making self-inflicting statements.
By his own current public utterances and posturings, Dr Estwick would have earned in Guyana the satirical blurb as a 'foot-in-mouth' politician, with his public strident criticisms of the fiscal and economic policies of the current second-term Administration of Prime Minister Stuart.
Classical examples have already been brilliantly captured by the Nation's popular cartoonist, Guy O'Neil, with his hilarious 'Willi Worm' character.
The ABC of party politics should have alerted Dr Estwick to the political consequences of a prepared media statement on January 29 when he waxed warm against his government — specifically on the economic challenges and social consequences facing the nation that, he feels, required better leadership.
He has also been critical of the fiscal management policies being pursued under the stewardship of Finance Minister Chris Sinckler.
However, by February 3, within four days of his stern warnings about the faulty policies being pursued by the Government, the Daily Nation was reporting with a photograph under the page-one banner headline 'HAPPY DEM', Dr Estwick as declaring at the home of his Cabinet colleague and DLP General Secretary Donville Inniss, that, he had "no plans to quit".
Further, that he has "no problems with 'Chris'" (Sinckler); that he was 'a Dem at heart and I am very comfortable'..."
Such was the verbal gymnastics of a seasoned politician who had earlier vowed, without any known provocation, to break his silence on the economic future of Barbados, as it would be wrong for him, he said, to "hold my tongue".
By this surprising intervention, Dr Estwick may well have already determined his own political future — in or out of government — at a time of deep uncertainties for Prime Minister Stuart's Administration and, of course, the nation of Barbados.
Should Estwick insist on his political acrobatics, it could well result in either his removal from Cabinet, or his voluntary resignation, which would relegate him to the backbenches in the 30-member House of Assembly where the DLP has a majority of just two.
Even if he chooses to sit as an independent MP, or is compelled so to do, it means additional political pressures for the Government to steer the course towards economic recovery — still far away — amid prevailing tension and uncertainties.
Rapes by 'fathers'
Meanwhile, as Jamaicans live uneasily amid horrific cases of murder, with children among the slain and rape victims, the people of Trinidad and Tobago were learning this past week of the chilling revelations about the spreading crime of rape that is resulting in over 2,500 teen pregnancies a year.
More despicable was the disclosure by Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh that most of the teen pregnancies have resulted from "fathers" in the 25- to 40-year age group. The failure to have the cases exposed means, as Dr Gopeesingh said, the culprits involved are getting away with statutory rape.
A reference was also made to the findings of a research programme by the UWI Faculty of Medical Science which revealed that by age 19 more than 1,000 young women had four children already and faced survival challenges.