The Right Honourable Owen Seymour Arthur, who died on Monday, aged 70, was the longest-serving prime minister of Barbados and an outstanding son of the Caribbean who will be sorely missed by all regionalists.
As leader of the Barbados Labour Party, he served for three consecutive terms as prime minister—from September 6, 1994 to January 20, 1999; January 20, 1999 to May 21, 2003; and May 21, 2003 to January 15, 2008. He was also, at one time, the leader of the opposition. All told, he was a member of the House of Assembly from 1983 to 2018.
Born on October 17, 1949, Mr Arthur was educated as an economist at The University of the West Indies, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees. He started his career in the late 1970s at Jamaica’s National Planning Agency (now Planning Institute of Jamaica) working with Dr Omar Davies and Dr Norman Girvan at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute before returning to Barbados and joining the Ministry of Finance and Planning in 1981.
His exposure to politics began with Jamaica’s People’s National Party.
He married a Jamaican and had always referred to the formative experiences in Jamaica, where he felt as comfortable, as in his homeland.
Whilst prime minister he was simultaneously minister of finance, and his management of the economy of Barbados at a very challenging time was one of the high points of his tenure in office.
Mr Arthur introduced a number of innovative economic reforms and reduced unemployment from above 20 per cent in 1994 to seven per cent in 2000. His incisive intellect and mastery of detail put civil servants and ministers in trepidation and often made him impatient with colleagues, including fellow Caricom leaders.
But it was this acuity of mind that made him a brilliant development economist and articulate, persuasive advocate in the international arena. He felt strongly that the development options of small economies, such as those in the Caribbean, were more than any other genre of economy affected by the actions of developed countries to squeeze them out of niche opportunities in the global economy.
His was a strident voice on small island developing states, overcoming the challenges of small economies, including unfair, punitive actions of developed countries on international tax regimes and correspondent banking.
Mr Arthur was an ardent regionalist and, to the extent to which the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) has made any progress, it was due to his tireless efforts when he was the Caricom prime minister responsible for the CSME.
After his retirement from active politics he was made a professor of practice, and most recently chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Guyana for the disputed general election.
Mr Arthur’s sudden and untimely death leaves unfinished several tasks he was spearheading for Prime Minister Mia Mottley as chairman of the board of LIAT Airline and his compelling and much-awaited memoirs.
We join with his many friends in Jamaica to offer our deepest condolence to his widow, Julie, his daughters Leah and Sabrina; family members and to the government and people of Barbados.
—Courtesy Jamaica Observer