Thu | Jul 18, 2019

EDITORIAL - David Thompson's legacy

Published:Tuesday | October 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The untimely, if not entirely, unexpected death last weekend of Prime Minister David Thompson of Barbados robbed him of time to leave a distinctive and indelible mark on his country. Nor did the wider CARICOM family ever know what contribution he might have made to the region.

For, notwithstanding his seeming lack of deep engagement in regional issues in his two active years as prime minister, it is improbable that someone of Mr Thompson's promise, intellect, and appreciation of the logic of integration would not have eventually played a substantial and substantive role in advancing the Caribbean Community.

It would be an error, however, to suggest that Mr Thompson's contribution to Barbados could be judged merely by the 34 months of his premiership, for nearly a third of which he was sidelined by the cancer that eventually took his life.

What is often overlooked is Mr Thompson's role in fashioning the vaunted social consensus and in taking the tough decisions that helped, eventually, to place Barbados on the threshold of developed country status, which Jamaican commentators like to highlight.

David Thompson was marked early as a future leader of Barbados. He was a protégé of the late Errol Barrow and led the youth wing of Barrow's Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

Mr Thompson entered the Barbadian parliament in 1987 at the age of 25, and joined the Cabinet four years later as the minister of community development and culture. By this time, in 1991, Mr Barrow was dead, Mr Erskine Sandiford was prime minister, and Barbados was in deep economic trouble. There was talk of devaluation of the Barbadian dollar, whose longstanding, fixed rate was an important psychological symbol of the country's well-being.

It is now part of popular Caribbean lore how Mr Sandiford took the hard fiscal decisions, including freezing public-sector salaries, cutting expenditure elsewhere, and losing the next general election.

Bitter medicine

Indeed, Mr Sandiford deserves the credit for agreeing to, and standing by, the difficult actions that eventually pulled Barbados back from an economic precipice.

What is not usually remarked on is that between 1992 and 1993, Mr Thompson, then just past 30, was the minister of state in the ministry of finance and had responsibility for administering some of the bitter medicine that Barbadians had to imbibe.

Between 1993 and 1994 - when the DLP was thrown out of office - David Thompson had full responsibility for the finance portfolio. He didn't relax the purse strings, helping to create the platform upon which the new government built.

That, we think, is a substantial legacy.

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