Was treachery at the heart of the no-confidence vote that sank the SLP in 1982?
The 1981 Budget debate had all the ingredients of a Hollywood soap opera: intrigue, unimaginable deception, double dealing, criminal accusations, unintended comedy—not to say the ever-present possibility of parliamentary fisticuffs. Then there was the question of Peter Josie’s loyalty. Long before he became an MP, he and George Odlum were like Siamese twins inseparably conjoined at their hearts. Lately, however, things had changed. More and more, Josie was reconsidering his relationship with the increasingly chameleonic Odlum. At the height of the factional dispute between Prime Minister Allan Louisy and his deputy George Odlum, while Josie was enjoying an extended vacation in New York, he received word that Odlum had decided to play by Louisy’s rules. Upon returning home, Josie told inquiring reporters how he felt about Odlum’s publicized change of heart and his declared readiness to work “with any Cabinet that emerges in the future.”
Josie had been Odlum’s chief campaigner for the office occupied by Allan Louisy. He had written to his prime minister a two-page letter and, in terms many considered demeaning, cautioned him to keep his promise and step down in favor of “an obviously more talented Odlum.” No surprise that Josie was extremely disappointed by his friend’s latest decision. He said he considered Odlum’s most recent volte-face sickening proof that he was merely spouting hot air when he talked about certain principles that prevented him from sitting in Cabinet with corrupt individuals. Nevertheless, with Budget Day around the corner, Josie sat down with Odlum, perchance to reconcile their differences and consider the political possibilities still open to them. From Odlum’s perspective, the Budget debate represented the perfect opportunity to force Louisy to stand down as prime minister. Yes, he was back to his original position.
He cited Section 55 (4b) of the Constitution Order: “If a Resolution of no Confidence in the government is passed by the House and the prime minister does not within three days resign or advise a dissolution, the governor general, acting in his own deliberate judgment, may dissolve parliament.” In which event fresh general elections would follow. Risky business. On the other hand there was Section 55 (2b): “In the exercise of his powers to dissolve parliament the governor general shall act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister: provided that if the prime minister advises a dissolution and the governor general, acting in his own deliberate judgment, considers that the government of Saint Lucia can be carried on without a dissolution and that a dissolution would not be in the interest of Saint Lucia, he may, acting in his own deliberate judgment, refuse to dissolve parliament.” In which case the MP that commands the most support in the House will be sworn in as prime minister— without an election and its attendant risks.
Odlum fully expected the five opposition UWP parliamentarians to support a Motion of No Confidence against the government. They had nothing to lose. But even with the cooperation of his own 3-man faction, the combined numbers in the House would still not be sufficient to unseat Louisy—who could safely count on the support of at least seven Labour MPs. Peter Josie’s vote was, therefore, absolutely crucial. Somehow, Odlum would have to reel in his old buddy. No easy task, considering Odlum’s private suspicion that Josie— encouraged by the CIA—had cut his own lucrative deal with Allan Louisy. As if to make matters worse, shortly before leaving home for the House on the final day of the debate, Odlum took a call from eminence grise Victor Fadelin that confirmed a nagging fear: in the best interests of the government, Josie had decided to play it safe and cast his vote for Louisy, despite an earlier contrary promise to Odlum.
For a full hour on the morning of 14 April 1981, George Odlum, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Foreign Affairs, addressed not so much the provisions as the author of what he referred to as a “bikini budget that reveals what is suggestive but conceals what is vital.” (He took full credit for Professor Aaron Levenstein’s original line about statistics.) Odlum was of the view that Allan Louisy lacked the will to implement his own Budget, and cited several examples of what he described as the prime minister’s effeteness. He also offered a hint of what it was like being a member of a divided government, with the right hand not knowing what the left was doing. The local tourism industry had come close to losing the vital services of a particular airline, Odlum revealed, largely because the prime minister, mindlessly pulling rank, insisted on dragging his feet. Bypassing his indecisive leader, Odlum said, he grabbed the bull by the horns and gave the airline the sought after official assurances. It took another two weeks before the full Cabinet entered the picture and agreed to accommodate the airline. Only then did it come to light that single-handedly he had saved the day by doing on time what needed to be done, regardless of the possible consequences to his career.
Considering how often he had criticized the Compton administration for its square pegs in round holes, he said, how ironic that he should now find himself a member of another government comprising even more square pegs in the roundest of holes. “What is it about these government benches that once we sit on them we fall into the quicksand of corruption?” he asked, eyes fixed on the Speaker. He had been working for some ten years, he said, on a secret project: from his earliest days with the Forum he had tried to recruit a small nucleus of principled men who were at one on “certain fundamental issues concerning this country, its conduct, its economy, its social and political life . . . a body of brothers that Saint Lucia would be proud of.”
While listening to the contributors to the previous day’s debate, it had occurred to him that a blind man would have had no trouble identifying those who spoke with commitment. “When you hear the Honorable Minister for Agriculture describing his purpose, the functions and operations of his ministry,” he said, “when you consider the organized, analytical way he tackles his tasks, then you know the value of the period of his apprenticeship.” Their relationship from the late 1960s had always been peculiar, he said. They were like brothers in search of truth and principle.
A dapper Peter Josie smiles for the camera. Was he influenced to vote against Allan Louisy’s 1981-82 Budget by the words of his close friend George Odlum?