Differing views on Sir Lester’s legacy

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Mixed views of Sir Lester Bird’s contribution to the development of Antigua and Barbuda were expressed by two contributors to the Big Issues programme yesterday.
Dr. Oswald Thomas, a former Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), advisor and Vere Bird III, Sir Lester’s nephew were giving their personal perspectives about the type of legacy Sir Lester Bird has left behind following his retirement from active politics.
Sir Lester officially announced his retirement from representative politics during a sitting of Parliament last Tuesday – after almost four decades of active political participation.
Following the announ-cement, many have asked what had those years of service produced for Antigua and Barbuda and would Sir Lester be remembered for his achievements or some of the controversial developments which took place under his tenure.
When asked about his thoughts on his uncle’s political career, Vere Bird III said: “It was better than most, but it could have been much better than anyone else in the Caribbean. I think he lost his way somewhere along the line. But even though he fell short of the mark, he is still above average.”
Bird III, the Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda True Labour Party (ABTLP), said that Sir Lester’s biggest achievement was in the field of tourism.
“It was around tourism and the boom that Antigua experienced in the early 80s to the mid 90s. And, the way he assisted his father [Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Snr] in planning the industry and how much people came to Antigua and the economy was booming back in those days.”
The ABTLP chairman added that successive governments have failed to reduce Antigua and Barbuda’s dependency on Tourism.
Dr. Thomas spoke glowingly of the contributions and legacy of the two-term prime minister, who has long been coping with health problems.
“Sir Lester has been the architect of the modern Antigua and Barbuda that you find and he has served well under his father. Many of the progress that we have built on was done under Sir Lester,” Dr. Thomas said.
The former ABLP advisor went on to list the: Heritage Quay Shopping Centre; The Royal Antigua Resort and Spa; St. James Club; the Antigua and Barbuda Hospitality Training Centre; Antigua and Barbuda International Institute of Technology, and several other projects which where pioneered by Sir Lester.
“It was under his leadership that he brought the opposition into prominence. Prior to that, opposition parties were not thought of in that manner. Sir Lester gave the Leader of the Opposition an office, paid for by the taxpayers, an an advisor, an aide, and a vehicle …”
When asked to give an opinion on whether the many alleged scandals influenced the ABLP’s defeat in 2004 should form part of Sir Lester’s legacy, Dr. Thomas suggested that corruption is a word that is often used carelessly. He stressed that no member of the ABLP was ever sent to jail or was prosecuted.
“It is easy to point the finger, but nobody follows through,” Dr. Thomas said.
 Vere Bird III, however, said that “the buck stops with the prime minister. At the end of the day, Lester Bird was the one who was the prime minister and he has to take responsibility for what happened in his administration.”
Sir Lester, who was born on February 21, 1938, served as prime minister from 1994-2004, replacing his father, Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Snr.

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