Good morning, Barbadians. Barbados lost today, our fifth Prime Minister, Owen Seymour Arthur. Even as I visited Mr. Arthur yesterday, I’m still taken by the quickness of his passing. Indeed, this is one of the few occasions in public life that I struggle for words. While I speak today as Prime Minister of Barbados and there is so much going through my head after 32 years of relationship, and I might add, a sleepless night.
My thoughts go back to the morning after September 6th, 1994, 28 years ago, when Mr. Arthur called and offered me the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture and thereafter offered Liz Thompson the Ministry of Health.
We were described as being too green for the task of these large Ministries and that he needed to appoint more seasoned individuals. Owen advised us to ignore those comments and to press ahead with the mission as he believed we would succeed. He believed in Barbados and in what we could achieve. That reinforcement of what we could do anchored us on a journey for which I shall always be grateful.
The Owen Arthur that I knew was never overwhelmed by the task at hand. “Face it and fix it”, that was his mantra. Indeed, his greatest domestic legacy will be considered by many as the wrestling of unemployment from the horrendous highs of the early 1990s to under 7% in 2008.
It seems like an archaic economic achievement, but it meant real things to real Bajans in real ways. The promise that many doubted at the outset of his tenure was delivered over the three terms – the creation of 30,000 jobs.
“The Owen Arthur that I knew was never overwhelmed by the task at hand. “Face it and fix it”, that was his mantra.”Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley
And when it came to our country, Owen defended Barbados with a ferocity that reinforced in many that he understood and accepted that those who went before had set a very high standard for the defence of our country, and that he was duty-bound to continue in the same vein.
This strong patriotism was anchored by a burning passion for regional integration for the Caribbean civilisation. This passion, fortunately, coincided with his responsibility as the lead Prime Minister in CARICOM for the Single Market and Single Economy. I was with Owen in Jamaica when he signed in 2006, early 2006, with tremendous pride, the instrument that brought the CARICOM Single Market into existence. He was brimming with pride.
On another front, Owen set out to, and did master the art of politics. But he never, in so doing, compromised his economic training and his commitment at all times to sound policy. It was his hallmark.
Owen from the early 1990s, moulded a new class of politician in this country and changed in many ways, how those representatives would serve the better chances and obligations of a politician, as they serve their constituents.
He worked assiduously in his own St. Peter, to make this the new standard for political mobilisation and representation for all. And we all followed. I witnessed it firsthand as I managed four election campaigns for him – two General Elections and two By Elections.
On looking back at the closing years of the last century and the early years of this century, there is no doubt, my friends, that Owen Seymour Arthur was the man for the times.
Owen never lost the thirst for public policy, not even after he left Government. His counsel, especially on the Barbadian economy, was rendered to all governments.
Indeed, it was on this platform where duty met politics and policy in the national interests, that he and I, we, would anchor our most recent relationship. And I thank him for meeting me here in the last 18 months.
I asked him to serve in a number of key areas, including in the Jobs and Investment Advisory Council. This came after his work in the last year as he helped this Government in the forging of a new industrial policy and in the review of the international trade options of small island developing states, as we prepared ourselves to be the smallest country to host an UNCTAD Assembly. His work will continue as we continue those preparations and will be built upon.
“Owen from the early 1990s, moulded a new class of politician in this country and changed in many ways, how those representatives would serve the better chances and obligations of a politician, as they serve their constituents.”Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley
Tragically, COVID would put paid to one of his very last assignments, the Chairmanship of LIAT. It was with a heavy heart that he and his board recommended the liquidation of LIAT 1974 Limited. Owen was conscious that he made the decision to increase Barbados’ participation with LIAT at the turn of the century in a previous time, but that the scale of the impact of COVID and the state of the company as it is today, would make that task virtually out of our reach and certainly, as Barbadians, given all that we now had to face with COVID.
My friends, our country, Barbados, is the poorer for his passing. His intellect was larger than life, believe you, me. His love of country, as constant as a northern star. The last title bestowed on him was the most fitting – Professor of Practice. For Owen was first and foremost a teacher.
Taking the most complex economic issues and stripping them down to be understood by the average man and average woman in the shop. His keen sense of history and of politics shared daily with an emerging class of politicians that he would claim responsibility for bringing to public life.
As I said earlier, a man of his time and for the times in which he served. He discharged his duty as Prime Minister of Barbados and as a Caribbean leader with distinction. He shall remain in that pantheon of Caribbean leaders.
On behalf of the Government and the people of Barbados, we say thank you to Owen Seymour Arthur and to his family for his service to a grateful nation and to a proud people. To his wife, Julie, and his daughters, Sabrina and Leah, and his granddaughter, to his siblings, we extend our deepest condolences. To all who shared his friendship and who supported him, we also extend our deepest condolences.
The appropriate arrangements for the State Funeral will be attended to by the Honourable Colin Jordan and by the Cabinet Office.
It is at this time that nations find it necessary to reflect, and I urge all Barbadians to so reflect over the course of the next three days of official mourning. I remind us that during this period that that reflection should be accompanied by the appropriate behaviour and the appropriate use of music in public spaces.
I also remind us that thereafter and from today, Barbados’ flag will be flown at half-mast until such time as Mr. Arthur’s remains are interred.
May his soul rest in peace and may his family be buttressed by the prayers of all Barbadians as I ask you, wherever you are, to uplift his family in prayer and to reflect on the manner in which he positively contributed to the life of our nation.
I thank you.