The death of any man is a matter which should touch all other human beings, but when a leader passes, the remembrance is tinged with additional sadness since leaders in the political arena often do touch our lives so directly that we feel the loss even more keenly.
Since Independence, Barbados has lost five of its prime ministers and the death of Owen Seymour Arthur is the passing of a man whose achievements in the economy of modern Barbados cannot be over emphasised.
The first of the prime ministers to have sprung directly from the working class, Arthur distinguished himself as a competent economist who fully understood the needs of his people. He drew on the examples of his predecessors to ensure that the reins of government were harnessed to meet the needs of our people and to cure as many of the scars of historical underdevelopment in a post colonial society, as he could.
He was able to hold office for some 14 years. This tenure enabled him to leave an imprint on the national consciousness of the need to earn foreign exchange, and if we borrowed, to engage in judicious borrowings. Similar to his first predecessor, Mr Errol Barrow, he argued that loans should be used for development purposes. Such loans should not jeopardise the integrity of the national economy, nor engender fiscal crises, which harmed the public interest and the people of the country.
Unlike other prime ministers he had the advantage of having worked for some time in the economic public service of another Caribbean country. This experience may have influenced his politics of inclusion. The entrenched partisanship of the political systems did not meet with his wholehearted approval since he had seen the damage done by that approach and his experience living in a country in which politics was the moral equivalent of war especially at election time, remained with him.
There is much to be gained if all our political parties recognise that the pool of available talent and the size of our societies cannot support the extreme aspects of government, which exploit the view that to the victor belong all the spoils. If there is any legacy lesson to be taken from Mr Arthur’s political life, it is that leaders should always remember that political opponents are also Barbadians first. Apart from anything else, it would be a fitting tribute to Mr Arthur’s memory if this lesson could be taken to heart.
Yet again, regretfully we have lost another prime minister who has gone to his fathers without leaving us the reflections of his political and economic memoirs. Cumulatively, this is a tragic loss. Political memoirs have the advantage of defining for the society the parameters of power and what is possible as head of the Cabinet.
As Owen Arthur’s administration was located between two DLP administrations both of which encountered severe fiscal problems, his reflections on his own economic management would have been a valuable primer on how to manage a small open economy without falling victim to the potholes into which some of his opponents easily fell.
As we mourn his passing, may his family, and this country be comforted by the knowledge that he used his abilities to do his best, to make us all proud of his stewardship.
May he rest in well deserved peace!
• The above editorial is printed jointly today with our sister paper, the Barbados Nation).