Thursday, 26 April 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St John's - Inside Politics has spent some time mulling the infamous letter penned by Health Minister Wilmoth Daniel, and its ramifications for both the governing United Progressive Party (UPP) and the politics of Antigua & Barbuda in general.
Since the letter was published, I have been approached by many people seeking my analysis of the situation and just how I believe the matter will play out.
My assessment has been consistent throughout; Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer cannot fire Daniel, irrespective of how angry the letter - and the fact that it has been made public - makes him. This, in my view, would precipitate a series of events that I suspect would led to the demise of the UPP government and even, perhaps, marshal in early elections.
For Spencer to fire Daniel because he called for an inquiry into an affair that many people in the society view as questionable, would send a signal that a government that came to office on the backs of promises of good governance and transparency in all its endeavours is itself behaving contrary to its much-hyped mantra of "what is wrong will be made right".
Secondly, Spencer’s thin parliamentary majority – UPP – 9, ALP – 7, and the BPM – 1, doesn’t allow for much political manoeuvring, especially when there are other restive members on your side about whom you are not absolutely sure.
Inside Politics was able to take a seat at the first Cabinet meeting following the issuing of the letter. It turned out to be a roundtable discussion on the issue.
Prime Minister Spencer said he was very hurt by the letter, and that in his view, if someone does not want to be a part of the government, then they can leave. “I am not going to have an investigation. An inquiry can hurt our government. I will not be having an inquiry,” he declared.
Other ministers were asked to voice their opinions one by one. Hilson "Brother B" Baptiste said he did not see the need for an inquiry, and he felt that if Daniel had an issue, then he should have discussed it in Cabinet among his colleagues instead of penning a letter that eventually reached the public. He said he was feeling unwell, and he left the meeting.
Perhaps the most vociferous defense of the government came from Education Minister Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, who felt that Daniel should leave the party. She urged the prime minister to fire him. In an off-hand remark, she even referred to the Hadeeds as "greedy".
John Maginley wanted not just this letter retracted, but also the one that spoke of a Cabinet minister attempting to bribe Daniel.
Harold Lovell was unusually reticent when his turn came to speak. He said that he felt all the questions relating to the power plant had been answered, and that he did not see the need for an inquiry.
The attorney general was absent from the meeting.
Perhaps the most sober reflection came from the man who spoke last, Dr Errol Cort. He opined that the PM and his Cabinet ought to be mindful that expelling Daniel from the group could spell dire consequences. He even volunteered to mediate between Spencer and Daniel, as he saw the ongoing feud as driving a chasm in the party and the government.
At that, Spencer appeared to have stepped away from the edge, and in his wrap-up, adopted a more conciliatory tone by agreeing to Dr Cort’s offer of mediation. Spencer also told his UPP executive about Dr Cort’s offer, and his acceptance of the move. Through it all, Daniel stood stoically listening to his colleagues.
Several weeks have elapsed since the letter was delivered to Spencer. It seems as though the combatants have reach a stalemate. The UPP government, with the support of its party executive, is resolute that there will be no inquiry in the Wadadli Power Plant affair.
Daniel has very little option left but to leave the government as a matter of principle if an inquiry is not held. Anything short of this would render him a toothless tiger, and he would be recorded in the annals of history as such. It is clear that he and the other members of Cabinet no longer share the same philosophy and principles, and can no longer co-exist.
As the fallout continues, one thing has become crystal clear; the public humiliation of Daniel by his former colleagues is now in full swing. Inside Politics has learnt that some members of the Cabinet have been heard gloating that Spencer has "put manners" on Daniel. This policy has also been put into effect by the radio programme "for hire".
What are the options available to the former deputy prime minister? Remaining in the Cabinet without it instituting an independent inquiry into the WPP matter would make him a laughing stock within the society. He also can forget appearing on a UPP ticket anytime soon.
However, irrespective of his deep desire to publicly "manners" Daniel, PM Spencer too has very few options available to him. Already, the majority of people in the society, UPP supporters included, firmly believe that Antigua & Barbuda did not get full value for money in the purchase of the power plant.
If he fires Daniel without holding an inquiry, then that would be interpreted as the action of someone with something to hide.
Secondly, with talk of a vote of no-confidence in the air, this provides fertile grounds for all kinds of late-night discussions that could give such a move traction. Spencer cannot and will not gamble with fate.
His best options therefore are to ride out the current storm and hope that Daniel doesn’t have any more surprises up his sleeve. He also has to hope that the suggestion that Antiguans & Barbudans have short memories holds true in this case, and that the WPP issue fades fast from their collective memories.
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