Sunday, 13 May 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
The late minister of Education and Carnival, Reuben Harris, was not always the easiest person to get along with. However, in recent times, I have found myself using more quotations attributed to him than other local politician.
I recall that in 1989, when I was assistant co-ordinator of Carnival, I was placed in charge of a new show - the Village Pageant. Due to the number of contestants involved, we held eliminations, and as head of the committee I arranged for Nat Moses to be the master of ceremonies.
Some days after the show, I met Mr Harris outside the Carnival Office on High Street and he chastised me for the choice of emcee. “Mr Barnes,” he said, “you have caused me problems with my Cabinet colleague (then labour minister Adolphus Freeland, who was Nat Moses’ opponent in the 1999 general elections).
He accused me of giving Nat Moses publicity (supposedly at Freeland’s expense). "You ought to know better, Mr Barnes. Carnival is serious political business!” he said.
That assessment by Mr Harris about Carnival returned to me earlier this year with all the problems associated with Carnival, and in particular, the call by elements among the interest groups of Carnival for the removal of Minister Eleston Namba Adams.
I made an assessment then and I still hold to that today; Minister Adams will remain in Carnival for as long as he wishes, or certainly, up to the next general elections. However he may wish, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is powerless to remove Adams from Carnival as long as he wants to remain there. That is the reality of the politics of Antigua & Barbuda; the Politics of Carnival.
Minister Adams is a quirky individual and an unconventional politician. He is however, no fool. When the United Progressive Party (UPP) was in the process of selecting its candidates prior to the 2004 general elections, a primary was held between aspirants, Valerie Hodge, Desroy Maile, and Adams.
A debate was arranged for the Cobbs Cross Primary School. I was the only journalist present, and I saw Adams literally tear to pieces both Hodge and Maile, and then become the eventual candidate. He is not to be under-estimated.
This year, the participants in Carnival – Calypso, Mas and Steelband - have been owed large sums of money by the Carnival Development Committee. This is prizes for Carnival 2011. This caused a serious rift between the CDC and its constituents, the participants.
As minister, Adams shouldered much of the blame for this. Pannist Leon Kuma Rodney made no secret of his dissatisfaction with Adams. He said that much during an interview on Observer AM. Others such as mas leaders Alister Thomas, Barrymore Zawardie Thomas and Colin Wanga Martin, known UPP supporters, are said to have approached Spencer with an aim to have Adams removed.
Despite all the noise, Adams remains firmly in charge as minister of Carnival. And Spencer is silent as a lamb.
After several attempts, I was finally able to speak with Minister Adams. It happened during the media launch of Carnival at the Royal Antiguan Hotel. The minister was hesitant at first, but after some cajoling, I finally got him to open up to discuss the issues of Carnival and politics.
Adams said that he was unconcerned about the efforts to have him removed as minister responsible for Carnival. “I paid little or no attention to their efforts, as I am of the view that there was no basis for the call,” he declared. He said that the Carnival festivities for 2010 and 2011 were deemed to have been successful. He blamed the lack of payment as the primary reason for the bad blood between the CDC and the participants. “People were angry because they were not paid.
Government (CDC) owed not just the participants, but also the service providers," he said. "The artistes felt they should be paid first and the providers also felt the same. How do you decide who should receive priority?”
The minister indicated that in past years, when artistes and others were owed money, some would approach the CDC on the pretext that they had emergencies and needed to be paid urgently and they - the committee would oblige. “This year, because of the lack of funds, we were not able to assist anyone with such requests and I believe that those at the centre of the move to oust me are among those affected by this,” he said.
Adams denied allegations that he had interests in any company that provided services to Carnival, especially security, a charge that has been making the rounds in Carnival circles. “That’s rubbish! I am one of the ministers with no involvement in any companies. I can speak truth to power! I have no such involvement,” he said. He also denied taking part in active negotiations for any artiste or participant in Carnival.
Turning to the politics of the day, Adams confirmed that he had been approached by elements within the opposition ALP to support a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Spencer. But Adams is keeping his decision close to his chest, stating, as he had done publicly, that he is consulting with his constituents on the issue and that he will be guided by their counsel. On his relationship with the prime minister, Adams described it as being "good".
In what can only be interpreted as a jab at those seeking his ouster, Adams said the Prime Minister had a choice to choose between him and his ‘enemies’ in the Carnival fraternity. “He (obvious reference to Spencer) can have his friends, but when it comes to politics, the Prime Minister can make a choice between them and me,” he said defiantly.
Adams also disclosed that both he and Spencer had dinner in English Harbour at the end of Sailing Week, when a range of issues were discussed.
Since the idea of a no confidence vote has been discussed publicly, Inside Politics has learnt that Spencer has been very visible in the St Paul constituency, and that infra-structural work is already earmarked for the area.
Adams seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the attention he has been receiving in recent weeks. “Why does everyone wants to know how I will vote?" he asked. "Why has no one asked Spencer how he will vote?”
In our own analysis of the situation, Inside Politics is firmly of the view that Adams will not support the no confidence vote. But as a wily politician, he is seeking to extract every ounce of benefit that he can from Spencer and others from the situation. He also recognizes that in a straight fight between himself and Paul Chet Greene without the Wigley George factor, he is unlikely to win.
One can only wonder what assurances have been made to Adams to secure his vote. Inside Politics believes that Adams sees this situation as his opportunity to BINGO, to borrow a popular local term.
The message therefore to Alister and others is this; in spite of whatever influence they feel they may have over the prime minister, it pales in comparison to a vote in favour of Spencer in Parliament, as it could be the difference between being in Government and sitting on the Opposition benches.
So to safeguard his government, Spencer dares not remove Adams from Carnival. And Alister, Mr Harris was right; Carnival is serious political business.