I wrote the following news story in 2005 but could not find a local media house willing to publish it. I eventually “sold” it to a Barbadian journalist who was resident in Antigua. I publish it here in the hope that it reaches the wider Barbadian, Caribbean and international audience for which it was intended. Since the return of the Demcratic Labour Party to power in 2008, Sir Lloyd has become the island’s ambassador to China.
“Worst than a common criminal!” This is how former Prime Minister of Barbados Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford says he was treated by fellow Parliamentarians when he was removed from office by a no-confidence vote in 1994.
He was speaking in Bridgetown on Thursday at a symposium entitled “Mighty Men Meeting – My Challenges, My Conquests”. The event is a pioneering initiative, jointly spotlighting secular and religious leaders whose lives may serve as an inspiration to other men. Organized by a local evangelical church, Faith Temple Assembly, the project marks a significant departure from the “cocooned”, conventional fare of evangelical Christian pulpits.
Sandiford’s comments stood out in an otherwise “measured” presentation, marked by several biblical citations and allusions. In an apparently unplanned shift from the sermonizing style that predominated, he assumed a more personal, pained tone, as he defended his record of leadership. He began, “I am Afraid of no charge against me! Everything I have done in my public life has been done on the basis of principle! And when you stand on principle, the courts of the world may punish you.” One of the lengthy pauses in speech that were a focus of harsh criticism during his tenure as Prime Minister followed. Then Sir Lloyd continued, “Just as the Parliament of Barbados punished me! Treated me worst than a common criminal!” The modest audience of about forty, mostly male participants, was hushed. “Nobody else is treated in that manner,” he resumed. He said even criminals are treated with more regard.
Sandiford also said that no one has defended him against the treatment he received. He said, “And people sit back and keep quiet about it! Not the church! Not the teachers! Nobody! Not those who say you – your friends – they are your friends! Not one word is spoken!” Then, hinting perhaps at an element of intimidation generated by the ruling Barbados Labour Party’s popularity – or perhaps, at the influence of those in his own Democratic Labour Party who supported the no-confidence motion against him – he virtually whispered: “If you keep silent, can’t touch you!”
Regaining his composure somewhat, Sandiford resumed his biblical focus. “Christ carried the cross mostly alone. We have to bear it! Alone!” he exclaimed. He then said “So we must not only read the Bible but draw the conclusions from it and try to fashion our lives among the best examples we can find.”
Barbados Workers Union General Secretary Bobby Morris would probably not claim biblical inspiration for his conclusions, but he seems to be fundamentally in agreement with Sir Lloyd. Speaking to CMC on Sunday, he said “I was part of Parliament when that shameful episode in our history took place. What made it worst for me is that as a student of history, especially of the political history of Barbados, I could find no parallel of a Prime Minister being virtually impeached in the highest “court” of the land – and in a situation where one could not be sure whether that “court” was acting in a civil or criminal jurisdiction; where the substance of the charges being prosecuted were in doubt.”
Morris said “Since natural justice requires the laying of charges of some breach, what law did he break? Did he breach financial rules? Did he breach the Constitution? Did he break any law of Barbados, that anyone could cite definitively, a code he breached. If it was in a court of law, charges would have to be laid; experts would appear for the prosecution or defence. Sandiford’s trial was equivalent to a political lynching by his opponents and some of those in his party, who acted more on personality than principle.”
He said some day a historian will unmask the conspiracy that led to this unprecedented occurrence in Barbadian history, which could never have happened with the white oligarchy that controlled the country, some of whom were part of the conspiracy. “And”, Morris added, “would probably never happen with the Barbados Labour Party”.
Morris also said Sandiford was not a dealer, or a compromiser, but a man of principle, not afraid to make hard decisions. “At the same time”, he continued, “he placed too much trust and confidence in persons who could be compromised. It is a pity that those who fought him tooth and nail can now praise the effect of his policies. Those who fought wage restraint now support it. The social partnership is now based on wage restraint. Public servants now settle for 3%. 13 years ago, under Sandiford they did not want to accept the rationale of an adverse economic situation; they fought him. Those fighting selling the family silver through privatisation and other strategies are now silent.”
Morris went on to list a series of issues, including water outages, illegal drugs, garbage disposal, and the execution of prisoners which, “Under Sandi”, according to him, “were blown out of proportion.” “Additionally”, he said, “the press was free then: it is not now.”
Prominent regional journalist Rickey Singh has been living in Barbados for several years and covered the events of 1994. He may share some of Morris’ concern about press freedom in Barbados today. His view of Sandiford’s comments differ though. Noting that it is difficult to comment on “such a personal reaction by Sir Lloyd” at a meeting he did not attend, he told CMC “My own very personal view about a political development that occurred ten years ago is that it is most surprising for a politician of the experience and stature of Sir Lloyd to place such an anguished, emotional response and to appear to be so bitter over it in 2005. I also think it was most unfortunate that some of his DLP colleagues should have joined the BLP in what was in effect a coup against a lawfully elected government that Sandiford headed.”
Caribbean politics have been evolving in ways that have probably taken many observers by surprise. To Sandiford’s political demise, we could add the recent “prisonerization” (voluntary incarceration) of former Trinidadian Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, the “dislocation” of the perennial Bird regime in Antigua and other developments that in one way or another are stripping the leaders of these post-colonial societies of their elitist aura of “untouchability”. Could these developments be a sign that our fledging democracies are coming of age?