BAJAN POLITICIANS AS KNIGHTS AND DAMES
- Reflections on a national honours roll BY RICKEY SINGH
December 14, 2003
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Over the years, some CARICOM states - among them Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago - have devised national awards systems that distinguish the 'national' from the 'foreign' or British in origin.
Yet, they maintain the nomenclature of Knights and Dames which Guyanese, for instance, would find strange, their country having long dispensed with the system of British honours or anything approximating such honours.
In Barbados, national awards are conferred under the 'Order of Barbados'; and with them come an increasing number of 'Knights and Dames of St. Andrew', quite a few being high profile politicians.
The latest list of recipients of Barbados' highest honour came on November 30 to coincide with the nation's 37th Independence Anniversary.
Included for 'Knight of St. Andrew' was Dr. Richie Haynes, an outstanding medical practitioner who also happens to be leader of the minority National Democratic Party (NDP), and a former Finance Minister in the 1986 administration of the now late Errol Barrow.
With Haynes' knighthood, it means that all three political parties of the country now have Knights within their respective ranks.
Also a recipient of this highest national honour, as 'Dame of St. Andrew', was Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Billie Miller. Her rise to higher political heights should not be ruled out. More later.
Conferring Barbados' highest honour on politicians, even before their retirement from active party politics, is an initiative associated with Prime Minister Owen Arthur, leader of the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP)
That is, with the exclusion from the mix of the British knighthood awarded the now late Cameron Tudor, regarded as a quintessential political gadfly - even in retirement from political office - on the recommendation of then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford. .
Under Arthurís watch, the first still active politician at the time of his knighthood, was former Prime Minister and ex-leader of the BLP, Harold St. John in 1994.
It was the year when the then governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) lost power at a snap election following a successful no-confidence vote against the Erskine Sandiford administration. The motion was moved by the politician who was to later become the country's new Prime Minister - Owen Arthur.
By 1997, former Foreign Affairs Minister and Attorney General, Henry Forde, also a former leader of the BLP, was made a Knight of St. Andrew. Three years later, in 2000, Erskine Sandiford was also conferred with that honour. In between, a former Senator of the ruling BLP, Ernie Bourne, was also elevated to the status of Dame of St. Andrew.
Another politician, associated with the opposition DLP and one of the more outstanding trade union leaders within the Caribbean Community, Leroy Trotman, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union and an Independent Senator, was conferred with the knighthood in 2001. The honour brought a first name change from LeRoy to Roy.
How very deserving they all are of the country's highest national honour is not an issue. At least no one, as far as I am aware, has ever questioned their merit of such an honour.
But it is to Prime Minister Arthur's political maturity, some say sagacity, that credit is given for this culture in making of Knights and Dames of St. Andrew politicians who have been identified as serving Barbados well in various ways over the years.
I do not see Prime Minister Arthur being conferred with the honour as a Knight of St. Andrew while in office, in this his third consecutive term during which he plans to retire from party politics.
It would be for a new Prime Minister to so recommend. Who that Prime Minister is likely to be will be a guessing game right up to the close of poll at the next general election in 2008. Right now, Arthur is not only carefully ensuring that the national honours roll also include leading political figures - across party lines.
He seems to be laying the foundation as well for his succession as party leader and, quite possibly, the first woman President of the coming Republic of Barbados before bidding farewell to party politics - as already signalled. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson will also be bowing out of party politics during his current third term.
Following the May 2003 general election, Mia Mottley, the ever militant and articulate Attorney General and Home Affairs Minister, replaced Billie Miller as Deputy Prime Minister.
Miller, a very experienced minister of the Caribbean Community and familiar face at regional and international meetings and conferences, was named as 'Senior Minister' - a curious ministerial title in cabinets across CARICOM - but with no loss in entitlements, as I understand it.
With former Home Affairs Minister and Attorney General, David Simmons, long gone as BLP Chairman and retired from politics to later become the country's new Chief Justice, Billie Miller had remained as Deputy Prime Minister with leadership succession to Arthur very much an open issue.
Former BLP chairman, Reginald Farley, now Education Minister, was once seen as a potential successor to Arthur but this no longer seems to be the perception.
Now that stalwarts like Richard Cheltenham, Louis Tull and, more recently, David Simmons, out of the picture - for different reasons - the focus will be on both Miller and Mottley as most likely leadership candidates when Arthur finally demits office, ahead of new general election.
Before then, should all go well, Barbados could have a changed constitutional status as a Republic, similar to Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica with a non-executive President as Head of State.
The politician who comes readily to mind for the office of President of the Republic of Barbados is Sir Henry Forde, now in political retirement, but quite involved in his established law practice. I seriously doubt his interest.
However, with Senior Minister Billie Miller now a Dame of St. Andrew, speculations have begun about the likelihood of her being the first Barbadian woman Head of State.
CARICOM's first woman Head of State was Janet Jagan in Guyana as Executive President. The late Dame Nita Barrow had the honour of serving as Barbados' first woman Governor General.
One cannot be sure what is the thinking of the very astute Owen Arthur, as he influences and shapes leadership changes in his party and cabinet, and plans ahead for the Republic of Barbados while preparing to demit office as head of government and BLP leader.
There is, of course, no point asking either Arthur or Miller about the possibility of a woman President of the Republic of Barbados. For one thing, the Parliament is yet to approve recommendations for required constitutional reform.
Or, for that matter, in asking Deputy Prime Minister Mottley at this stage about her chances of emerging as the new leader of the BLP to succeed Arthur.
No comment, I suspect, would be forthcoming from all three on what remains issues in the realm of speculations - though, by no means possibilities to be ruled out. After all, in politics, all things are possible.