Thursday, 21 June 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Politics is often described as the art of the impossible. Here in Antigua few politicians have been able to overcome what may have been widely viewed as ‘impossible odds’. One such politician seems to be the representative for St. Phillip South, Willmoth Daniel.
Just one month ago, Daniel seemed destined to be kicked out of the governing United Progressive Party government because of his stance against what he saw as corruption within the government whose success he had fought hard at the polls to ensure in 2004 and again in 2009.
Now Daniel is on the verge of being rehabilitated into the party of which he is a founding member and stalwart. (But we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
It’s important to backtrack a bit and to recap the issues that have brought Daniel and the UPP Administration to this point.) Daniel’s fall from grace started when he penned a letter to UPP Political Leader and Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, alleging that a Cabinet colleague had attempted to bribe him as part of the deal for the purchase of a building adjacent to the Medical Benefits Scheme.
Daniel’s action made him the subject of much scorn and derision from UPP stalwarts and especially on the radio ‘programme for hire’ where he was the blasted for two weeks, unrelentingly. He did not hurt his cause when he spoke about a special favour done on behalf of the host.
Daniel was marooned in the Ministry of Health headquartered in the former Administration Building, which had been condemned due to the asbestos sheeting used in the roofing.
The irony of the situation is that the Ministry of Health was and is still being housed in a building where the roof is a known carcinogen.
Operations at the ministry have been reduced to a four-hour day due to this fact. His attempts to move the ministry to another location have all faced one road block after another. Thus Daniel is perhaps the least active of all the UPP Cabinet members.
But Daniel did not stop there. He recently penned another letter to the Prime Minister detailing the history of his falling out with Spencer alleging, among other things, that he had been informed by Ambassador David Shoul that the engines at the Wadadli Power Plant were not new.
That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It then became open war between Daniel and his colleagues. There have been meetings of the party executive as well as meetings at the Cabinet level with one thing in mind get rid of Daniel at all costs.
When the matter of the vote of No Confidence was placed on the Order Paper of the House of Representatives at the behest of the opposition Antigua Labour Party, Daniel was noticeably absent from that sitting. This move led to speculation that it was deliberate, and that it was part of an orchestrated move to bring down the Spencer administration.
Since then there has been a flurry of activities as efforts were made to expel the errant parliamentarian. The party executive met and discussed the matter.
Then the top brass of the party invited the executive of the UPP St Phillip’s branch to a meeting at party headquarters to discuss the Daniel matter. At that meeting, the branch executive expressed a desire that another effort should be made to broker an accommodation or reconciliation with their representative.
Daniel himself met with the branch executive last Thursday as he sought to shore up support among his branch executive.
The final showdown came last Saturday when a special Cabinet meeting was called, which Daniel attended. He was absent from one such previous meeting.
There Daniel confronted his accusers led by the hawkish Jacqui Quinn Leandro. She was immediately shot down when he told her that she felt she had more ‘balls’ than a man.
Daniel was masterful. ‘Who among you that is without sin, let him cast the first stone’. Not a drum was heard, as Selvyn Walter would say.
Baldwin Spencer would not make the history books as Antigua & Barbuda’s most effective or efficient prime minister. The laundry list of his failings would probably take up a week’s edition of a newspaper. He has presided over the worst period of economic decline in Antigua & Barbuda’s modern history, now coming on four consecutive years of economic decline.
Barack Obama has to take responsibility for the economy in the USA, three and a half years after he took office. Many now feel that after eight and a half years, the country needs no more excuses.
Then there are issues like rising crime, rising unemployment, and falling confidence among the business community. This is coupled with a sharp decline in both foreign and local investments.
Despite his failings as Prime Minister, as a politician Spencer is as shrewd as they come. He recognises that his government is losing popularity and he cannot count on continued dysfunction in the opposition ALP if he wants to win in 2014.
Time is running out on his ability to do anything to turn around the economy in a significant way. He needs Daniel as part of his team if he is to face the electorate with any confidence. Daniel, like Spencer, may not have the formal education boasted by some in his Cabinet, but he more than compensates with his charisma and street smarts.
Securing Daniel’s support has other benefits. He is the only member of the government to openly speak out against the Wadadli Power Plant that is now proving to be a major embarrassment for the government, and to Spencer personally.
The article in Monday’s Daily Observer was damning. Coming from what many considered to be the unofficial mouthpiece of the UPP, when the article reported that the plant is not insured and that it is uninsurable, even the Doubting Thomases inside the ALP and elsewhere have had to sit up and take note.
Spencer needs Daniel like the body needs oxygen if he is to survive the expected fallout from the Wadadli Power Plant debacle. For as the power outages continue unabated and as electricity rates continue to climb, it is going to take all of Spencer’s and Daniel’s political skills to convince an angry electorate that the UPP deserves another chance.
An olive branch was extended at Saturday’s meeting for a one-on-one between Spencer and Daniel.
The St Phillip South representative, not taking any chances, asked to have a mediator present and he proffered Dr Cuthwyn Lake’s name.
Spencer agreed to this and the meeting took place on Sunday. That meeting lasted for close to three hours. Daniel is said to have made certain demands although Inside Politics’ ‘fly on-the-wall’ was unable to report what these demands were.
The ball is now in Spencer’s court. Is Daniel his trump-card or game changer? Only time will tell.