Was treach­ery at the heart of the no-con­fi­dence vote that sank the SLP in 1982?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

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?

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