Names country’s largest Cabinet and stays with the CCJ
By Rosie Awori
On Thursday May 24th, Barbados ushered in a new era, as voters were overwhelming in their decision to elect Mia Mottley as the country’s first female prime minister.
Mottley led her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to a decisive victory over the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), grabbing all 30 parliamentary seats and delivering the first ever landslide victory in the history of the legislature.
The DLP had previously held a slim majority with 16 seats.
Mottley now joins a handful of Caribbean women who have had the privilege to serve their countries as Prime Minister, including Trinidad and Tobago’s Kamla Bissessar-Persad, Jamaica’s Portia Simpson Miller, Janet Jagan of Guyana, and the late Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica.
Mottley’s victory has been received with acclamation all over the Caribbean and Latin America.
In separate notices, T&T’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Persad-Bissessar have congratulated her and the BLP on what they described as her “historic” victory at the polls.
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, The Honorable Dr. Timothy Harris, also sent a congratulatory message.
“I congratulate you and the Barbados Labour Party on your unprecedented win at the polls, and subsequent assumption to the leadership of Barbados. As you face the challenges ahead, I am confident that this overwhelming mandate will be used to provide a new opportunity to address the priorities of all the people of Barbados,” he said in a letter addressed to Mottley.
Born Mia Amor Mottley on October 1, 1965, she is the granddaughter of Ernest Deighton Mottley, the first mayor of Bridgetown, capital of Barbados, who is said to have been “a huge influence in her life,” as well as her father, Elliott Deighton Mottley, a barrister who sat in the Assembly and her uncle, Ernest Deighton Mottley, who was a leader of another political party, Christian Social Democratic Party.
As one of the youngest Queens Counsels in the country, Mottley charted a clear road map for her life and entered politics at the age of 26. At the age of 29, she was appointed Minister of Education Youth Affairs and Culture in the Owen Arthur’s government, making her the youngest to hold the post.
Mottley became the leader of the BLP in 2008 following the party’s defeat in the elections and the subsequent resignation of Arthur.
She has her work cut out for her, as Barbados’ economy has still not recovered from the economic crisis of the 2000s.
Despite Barbados’ white sandy beaches, which are a major touristic attraction, the country is still encumbered by sluggish economic growth, high levels of government debt and shrinking foreign currency reserves. And now even tourism has begun to shrink.
Speaking after her swearing-in, she acknowledged the mammoth task ahead of her.
“We are also very conscious that were we only to stabilize the economy and not transform it, we would be doing a disservice to our country. We have to ensure we can leapfrog those who have passed us out, such that opportunities are there for our young people and our country as a whole,” Mottley said.
To help in the search for economic stability, she put into place the largest cabinet in Barbados’ history, citing the scope of her victory and the task at hand.
“The Cabinet will be relatively large because I’ve not only considered the mandate given to us by the people, but also the scope of the work to be done, and the level of expertise that is at our disposal, among elected members. I’ve opted to share the workload across a significant proportion of the parliamentary group, rather than conform to the theory of a small Cabinet, thus creating an unrealistic setting for members to function effectively,” she was quoted as saying.
To this effect, an emergency plan has been created to mitigate the economic crisis. They will be seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and suspending payments to external creditors as it restructures government debt.
Following a meeting with the Social Partnership, Mottley announced at a press conference a multi-pronged plan to address critically low levels of international reserves, unsustainably high levels of public indebtedness, poor growth and major failings in public infrastructure and social safety nets.
She also announced that she and her ministers would be donating part of their salaries to charity in a direct response to the 10% increase put into place by the administration of former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in 2016.
Mottley was quoted as saying that she and her team “will not accept it (the pay increase) until the public servants issues relating to terms and conditions are appropriately resolved in this country,” in reference to unresolved labor negotiations in the country.
Mottley maintained Barbados will remain part of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which she cites as “one of the best examples of independence” in a court in the world.
It became a hot-button issue when former PM Stuart threatened to pull the country out of the CCJ, which is now its final appellate court.
In 2005, Mottley, as the country’s attorney general, was involved in the establishment of the CCJ.
Mottley also announced that she is working with the governor General Dame Sandra Mason to amend Barbados constitution to allow for two opposition Democratic Labour Party senators to sit in the country’s Upper House, “because we believe that even though there has been no official leader of the Opposition, my government would wish to have accommodated the views of the main Opposition party. “
She says if the DLP refuses the offer, the GG will be accorded the powers to appoint two other representatives from groups representing civil society to the senate.
The Prime Minister has hit the ground running, trying to avert the constitutional crisis born from the unprecedented 30-0 victory by the BLP. She began working with the governor General Dame Sandra Mason to amend the country’s constitution to allow for two opposition Democratic Labour Party senators to sit in the country’s Upper House.
“Because we believe that even though there has been no official leader of the Opposition, my government would wish to have accommodated, the views of the main Opposition party.”
However, a spanner was thrown in the works when Michel West MP, Bishop Joseph Atherley, decided to cut ties with the Barbados Labour Party and become the country’s official leader. He informed the Prime Minister of his decision by a letter.
A lot of speculation has arisen as to why he chose to move only after Motley named her 26-member cabinet, which he was not a part of. There has been no response from the prime minister following the move.
Mottley has bigger fish to fry, as she has to work tirelessly to mitigate the sewage crisis currently affecting the country.
“All Bajans will roll up their sleeves and we will deal with this now. If it means that we can’t do some other things because of the unavailability of funds, so be it. But we must have life first and this is what gives us life, in terms of public health and in terms of our economy,” Prime Minister Mottley said, after a tour of the south coast area.
The Prime Minister revealed that a sub-committee, chaired by Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Wilfred Abrahams, had been established, and once Cabinet approved the plan, this committee would be meeting two or three times a week to ensure that the project stayed “on time and on target.”