Beyond the loss to his wife, children and extended family, the passing of former Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur is certainly a tremendous loss to this country and the region.
When Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica left office I expressed the view then that he and Owen Arthur represented the last two in that class of political leadership that were driven by a political impulse derived from an ideology of nation building and development which centered around genuine people’s betterment. I reflect more so on him and Patterson than on their peers when I say that too many others are simply skilled commercial marketeers engaging in political salesmanship and public relations.
Owen Arthur was a visionary; but his sense of vision was measured. I think such was the case because that sense of vision was informed by his economic and public finance management skills and his realist politics.
His breath of knowledge was remarkable and evidenced itself by him entering into varied and multiple fields of subject matter, particularly so law. This stemmed from his avid reading and the measure of accountability which he felt attached to leadership responsibility.
His command of his cabinet was an art in practice to behold. It is my view that this derived from respect for him more so than fear of him.
I can still hear the echo of his mantra “Face it and fix it.” This he would often say to his ministers.
He possessed that facility essential to a successful political career which includes a rise to the top, that is, an ability and capacity for connecting with people at all levels.
Mr. Arthur had a penchant for ‘political mischief’. I use those terms in the mild sense of the word mischief. In a strange way I think it was a part of his appeal. Of course in a given circumstance the fierceness of his politics would manifest itself through use of his tongue or tactics and his opponents and detractors would know they were in a fight and up against it.
Once asked to describe him by someone who was writing a book. I used the term “flawed genius”. All of us achieve the status of the flawed. Few attain the status of genius. Humbly I submit that Owen Arthur did.
He embodied a passion and enshrined in his politics an obvious sense of Regionalism. It is largely to his credit that we can boast of the successes of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. My cynicism over our ability to achieve the necessary highest ideals of that regionalism increases with his passing and what it represents. Some would suggest that his commitment in this regard may have cost him at home.
Among his major achievements on the home-front would be for me: the significant increase in employment in his first term by 30,000 jobs; the urban land ownership programme which transformed the pattern of ownership and the character of housing in urban Barbados; the significant movement of political support among the St. Michael electorate away from the Democratic Labour Party and towards the Barbados Labour Party; and his success in changing public perception of the BLP as a party for the business types and elite interests.
Mine was the privilege to serve in his Cabinet and to serve under his chairmanship as first Vice Chairman of the Barbados Labour Party. Much of what I learned about politics in practice and public policy and management is to be credited in part to my experience during the Arthur years.
I would wish on behalf of the Office of the Opposition, the People’s Party for Democracy and Development, my family and myself to offer sincerest condolences to his wife and daughters and his extended family.
Labours here have ended and rest has been earned. May light eternally shine upon him.