by Dr Carlyle Mitchell
I was deeply saddened by the death of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite (Sir Nick) in November 2016 and that he died in virtual obscurity, ignored by the leadership of his party, the NDC, and a man with a broken heart for Grenada which he loved and served so well. I have worked as an Economist and Civil Servant for every Prime Minister (PM) of Grenada from Sir Eric Mathew Gairy to Dr Keith Claudius Mitchell and also served OECS and CARICOM PMs as the Director of Economic Affairs of the OECS Secretariat in Antigua from 1988–1992. In 1992 after returning to Canada from the OECS, I received a phone call from PM, Nicholas Braithwaite requesting me to serve as his Economic Advisor for three years, a period he indicated that would be challenging for his administration and Grenada’s economy — a request I could not refuse. I returned to Grenada as his Economic Adviser and was appointed Permanent Secretary and Director General Ministry of Finance with the specific responsibility for implementing the Grenada Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Working closely with him in these capacities of advisor and civil servant, engendered a personal friendship and respect and admiration for his performance as a PM. Sir Nick was the best Prime Minister Grenada ever had and this is my tribute to him and his family.
Sir Nick was an educator, a bureaucrat and a great humanist — a kind and gentle man, with a great love for people. He became a reluctant politician when he was appointed in 1983 [after the US invasion and the overthrow of the Peoples Revolutionary Government (PRG)] he was appointed by the Governor–General, Sir Paul Scoon, Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Interim Government, consisting of 12 unelected prominent Grenadians ministers and officials. His main objective was to restore democracy as quickly as possible and to demonstrate good governance and economic management which he hoped would serve as a model for elected governments when democracy was restored — an objective which was accomplished in one year. When he became PM in 1990, he provided good governance during a difficult economic period when Grenada was struggling for economic survival. However, largely rumoured riffs in the Cabinet resulted in giving the popular impression that he was a weak and insecure PM — Grenadians snidely conferred on him the nick name “Ah don know.” That poor reputation flew in the face of the fact that Sir Nick led and controlled his cabinet, gave his ministers a free hand to run their ministries, and made some of the most difficult and gutsiest decisions affecting Grenada’s history, decisions that are resonant in Grenada today. There are three decisions that I hope will demonstrate that Sir Nick was the best PM of Grenada. These are: 1) restoring the Constitution in 1991; 2) the commutation of the death sentences of the 14 convicted of the murder of PM Maurice Bishop and associates in 1991; and 3) implementing the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) 1993–1995.
1. The Restoration of the Constitution,1991: Dr Francis Alexis, the Attorney General during Sir Nick’s NDC government, in his tribute on his death on Grenada Broadcast, entitled: “Sir Nicholas Brathwaite Took Grenada Through A Most Seminal Period: The Restoration Of Its Constitution,” pointed out that Sir Nick successfully returned Grenada to full constitutional rule on 15 August 1991, after the Constitution had been revolutionarily suspended in March 1979, that should earn him a lasting legacy in the annals of the constitutional development of Grenada. He described him as a highly principled democrat, one who respected the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law human rights — a man with a progressive social conscience recalling that it was under Sir Nick that legal discrimination against children born out of marriage was abolished, failing modestly to mention that this was his “brain child” that Sir Nick and the Cabinet supported. It is significant however that he did not mention Sir Nick’s position or support for the recent Constitutional Referendum of 2016. However, Sir Nick and I had discussed the constitutional issue over the many years that Grenadians were asked to participate in the process leading to the Referendum. Towards the end he had misgivings since the process had been kidnapped by the current government designed to suit its interests. However, he was not against constitutional change and supported amending the existing Independence Constitution as some countries had done e.g., India and South Africa, but not replacing it with a new one. He therefore thought that the choices for the Referendum for Grenadians were either for: a) a new constitution; or b) amending the existing Constitution (his preferred option). I think that Sir Nick would have been pleased with the decision of the Grenadians to reject the new constitution for a Republic that had been proposed, including changing the name of the state to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique — I don’t think that Grenadians were made to realize the negative political, economic and international implications of such a name change and some of the other proposed changes. However, the long process came up with a lot of amendments that could be made to the Constitution that would strengthen and protect civil rights of all Grenadians, curtail the excessive power of Prime Ministers and limit them to two terms in office, allow for proportional representation, which would improve and enhance good governance in Grenada in the future. This could be the most fitting legacy of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite to Grenada.
2. Commuting the Death Sentences 1991: I was in Antigua with the OECS when the carrying out of the death sentences on the 14 convicted for the murder of PM Maurice Bishop and others became an item on the Agenda at the OECS Heads of Authority (PM’s) meeting. The OECS Authority — particularly PMs Eugenia Charles of Dominica, James Mitchell, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and John Compton of St Lucia — had solicited US President Reagan, rather than the UK, Margaret Thatcher, to mount the US invasion of 1993 that toppled the Revolutionary Council of the PRG and played an active role in the reestablishment of democracy afterwards. As a result, these three PMs were considered authorities on Grenada in the OECS, often commandeering more deference and attention than Grenada’s PM Herbert Blaize at OECS meetings. As a Grenadian, although Mr Blaize was indomitable in ‘holding his ground’, I found this troubling and was concerned about this. My concern became a reality at the 1991 meeting when the OECS advice to PM Nicholas Brathwaite on the executions was discussed and formulated — a meeting that he was not in attendance. This was because I could not support hanging 14 Grenadians in a population of less than a 100,000, but also because I was against the death penalty and had admired PM Mulroney for abolishing it in Canada despite popular support for the death penalty on the grounds that he was taking the country to a higher level of civility, a position that I hoped Sir Nick would take in Grenada. However, after a heated and often emotional session, the essence OECS Authority’s advice (perhaps a masterpiece of wisdom and diplomacy) was: In light of international pressure on the Grenada Government and the OECS for clemency coming from the Pope, Amnesty International, other nations and from people all over the world, only a portion of the condemned, at least three, should be executed (it was suggested at the meeting that of the three Bernard Coard and his wife Phyllis should be hung first), and the sentences of the others commuted to life in prison.
I called Sir Nick from my home the Friday evening of the meeting and briefed him on the discussions leading up to the OECS communiqué that he would receive and my opposition to it and my position that no one should hang in Grenada. I added, “PM, the hanging of some of those convicted and the sparing of others would forever fester in Grenadian society. Whether you hang three or five how do you determine who to hang and who to spare — by casting lots or playing God?” I asked. I was particularly incensed that Phyllis Coard was singled out for hanging even though I was aware that Grenadians viewed her as a Jamaican ‘lady Macbeth’ who led her husband astray. Sir Nick said he agreed with my position but he was having difficulties in getting his Cabinet to support it especially since 99% of Grenadians supported the death penalty for all 14 — “only Joan Purcell (a Cabinet Minister) supports me, not even Pansy (his beloved wife) supports me on this.” I commiserated with him about the agony that he was suffering. On the Monday evening, I heard on the news that the PM of Grenada had commuted the death sentences of those convicted. This decision, demonstrated that Nicholas Brathwaite was a brave and principled PM who by this decision effectively abolished the death penalty in Grenada—though still not taken off the books no one had been hung in Grenada since — and enhanced the international reputation of Grenada as a modern liberal and progressive small island democratic state.
3. Implementing the SAP 1993–1995: It was also while I was in Antigua that the World Bank/IMF dissatisfaction with Grenada became an OECS issue. The Government of PM Herbert Blaize, in which Keith Mitchell was a Cabinet Minister, had a poor record of economic management and had amassed an unsustainable debt resulting in Grenada’s loss of its credit worthy status that threatened its prospects for economic growth. As a result the World Bank/IMF advocated measures to remedy the situation such as: fiscal reform involving the reintroduction of income taxes in combination with a value added tax, administrative reform and reduction in the size of the Civil Service, essentially the major elements of the World Bank/IMF SAP. These measures PM Blaize considered ‘Draconian’ and resisted implementing that continued after his death in office in December 1989 by his successor PM Ben Jones. In 1990 Nicholas Braithwaite became PM, and Mr George Brizan, Minister of Finance, and therefore the Minister responsible for dealing with the World Bank/IMF. By this time, the World Bank/IMF was insisting that Grenada should pursue a SAP or be declared a “failed state” or pariah, a declaration with adverse economic implications not only for Grenada but for all OECS States. As a result, the OECS decided to shield and support Grenada at the annual meeting of the World Bank/IMF in Washington in 1991 and a meeting of OECS PMs with Mr Brizan was held in my office to discuss this support and advise him on a strategy and stance for the meeting. At the World Bank/IMF meeting, Mr Brizan indicated Grenada’s resolution to implement a SAP but would develop its own program utilizing Caribbean expertise from the OECS, the ECCB, CDB, UWI and the Ministry of Finance. This was accepted by the World Bank/IMF on condition that it conformed to the main measures and objectives of their SAP. Mr Brizan’s accolade and fame for his role as the originator of the “home grown program” is well deserved. However, the implementer and hero of the SAP was Sir Nick who received few accolades for this in Grenada.
I played a major role in the implementation of the SAP when I returned to Grenada in 1992. As Sir Nick’s economic advisor I participated in the planning and formulation phase of the SAP by liaising with the Ministry of Finance, with Sir Dwight Venner, Governor of the ECCB (now deceased) and with the research team of regional and Grenadian economists. It became apparent that implementing the SAP required the political clout and authority of the PM and Sir Nick was so advised. He acted promptly on it by: including Finance in his portfolio in a cabinet shuffle and transferring George Brizan to the Ministry of Agriculture; appointing me Permanent Secretary and Director General, Ministry of Finance with the responsibility for implementing the SAP; and establishing a regional Steering and Monitoring Committee for the SAP headed by Mr Venner and including in its membership the eminent developmental economist Mr Willy Demas from Trinidad and Tobago and also officials from the World Bank/IMF, CIDA, to which I reported quarterly on the performance of the SAP. However, Sir Nick had the most difficult and challenging role of getting Cabinet support of the SAP and for selling the program to the people of Grenada, particularly since the economic scenario for the SAP was negative growth and increased unemployment for most of the three year period. This was no mean feat since to the NDC Party and Cabinet members implementing the SAP was committing political ‘hari kari’ which turned out to be the case. In the 1995 election, the NNP under Dr Keith Mitchell came into power; its success in the polls mainly due to its opposition and criticisms of the SAP.
The SAP brought about significant structural changes in the economy and established a firm foundation for growth in Grenada’s economy, one that the Mitchell administration was able to benefit from for 13 years. The most significant accomplishments of the SAP were: 1) Once Grenada attained the first year goals of the Program, the World Bank/IMF reinstated its credit worthy status and assisted in the next two years of the Program in the securing financial support internationally mainly from the EU, and other Governments and institutions; 2) Fiscal reform by establishing a modern tax system based on indirect and direct(income tax) taxation including administrative reform of the Civil Service; 3) Improving the infrastructure including the privatisation of GRENLEC. Unfortunately, the Keith Mitchell’s NNP Government, on taking office pursued a policy of dismantling the SAP over the thirteen year period 1995-2008 by abolishing the broad based modern income tax structure, resorting more on indirect taxation, increasing the size of the Civil Service, and borrowing to finance development thereby massively increasing the national debt. These eventually created the same conditions that led to the SAP under the Brathwaite regime. These were inherited by the Tillman Thomas NDC Government in 2008 which strove heroically to avoid resorting to a World Bank/IMF SAP. However, PM Mitchell once again in office from 2013 and despite continuing his assault on the Sir Nicks SAP by renegotiating the terms of the privatization of GRENLEC, and attempting to dishonour the terms of other contracts with international investors had no other recourse but to ‘bite the bullet’ and resort to another SAP. A decision that I know gave Sir Nick a chuckle at its poetic justice. It is interesting that Keith Mitchell used the same strategy of a ‘home grown program.’ Grenadians instead of considering the World Bank/IMF as threats to their well being should be grateful to them for ensuring good economic management and governance.
4. Conclusion: I have endeavoured to justify my rating of Sir Nick as the best PM of Grenada based essentially on his accomplishments as a PM, but there are others whose views of him provide some support for my position some of which have been expressed in the tributes to him on his death. Beverly Steele’s, Grenada: A history of its People, had this to say: “During his term of as Prime Minister, Nicholas Brathwaite once |more demonstrated a leadership characterized by fairness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness.” What more could be said of any PM in the Caribbean? Recently Senator Rae Roberts article on Sir Nick’s love for cricket and his educational and pleasant and educational experience working with him including visiting him at home and sitting on his balcony to discuss business and cricket brought back similar experiences by me when during the SAP years I reported to him on the balcony five nights a week. In the years afterwards up to last year, anytime I visited Grenada I would pay him a courtesy visit in the evening to get his take on the political and economic situation in Grenada. I was always amazed at his knowledge and incisiveness on what was happening, the sharpness of his mind, and his sagacity. I recall during the period of the NDC government of PM Tillman Thomas, the political and economic problems were eerily similar to those encountered during Sir Nick’s administration and was surprised that his council was not avidly sought by the PM or the NDC party. However, up to his last days, Sir Nick always had Grenada’s best interests at heart and was willing to serve the people of Grenada in any way that he could. His lasting legacy is that his qualities and performance as Prime Minister provide a model for future Grenadian and OECS Prime Ministers.
Grenada-born Dr. Carlyle Mitchell graduated with a PhD from the University of Ottawa. As a professional, he has had a distinguished career as a Canadian civil servant. He is a former head of the Economic Affairs Secretariat of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and a former permanent secretary in the Grenada Ministry of Finance.