Submitted by Caswell Franklyn
At a press conference just prior to his 80th birthday in March 2011, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said of his country Russia:
“We have everything – a parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister and so on. But it’s more of an imitation… We have institutions but they don’t work. We have laws but they must be enforced”.
With the exception of the reference to a president, those sentiments are equally true for Barbados. Our country is supposed to be a democracy which operates under the Westminster System of governance as practiced in England. We have copied all the major democratic institutions from England but our copy does not work. It seems as though when they were making our copy of the Westminster System, the copier was extremely low on toner.
One of the main planks of the Westminster System is a separation of powers among the three branches of government, namely: the judiciary, parliament and the executive (cabinet). In Barbados the separation that is vital for the effective functioning of the state is virtually non-existent. What passes for governance in Barbados makes a mockery of the Westminster System and is merely a parody that should be an embarrassment for an educated people.
According to the Westminster System, the lower house of parliament has the power to dismiss the Government. In our present parliament, the cabinet forms the largest group of members in the House of Assembly, even bigger than the Opposition and the Government backbench combined. It therefore means that the Cabinet members of the House can out vote the other members, which in effect means that the House of Assembly has no control over the Cabinet. What we have can only be described as a dictatorship operating under the guise of a parliamentary democracy.
In order to dismiss a government, the House would have to pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority, but that is not realistic because in order to do so the Cabinet would have to vote against itself, effectively making them a judge in their own cause. If our Parliament is to function as part of a truly democratic system, the members of the Cabinet who are also members of the House should be restricted to a maximum of one-third of the size of the House. However, even a cabinet of ten members seems a bit much when you consider that Barbados is really a micro state with few resources. The only reason why a prime minister of this country would need such a large cabinet would be to provide jobs for his colleagues. A cabinet which contains sixteen members of the House in the context of a House of Assembly of thirty persons destroys any notion of a separation of powers between the Cabinet and the Parliament.
The non-existence of a separation of powers between the Executive and the Parliament is cause for concern, but of greater concern should be the non-existence of a separation between the Executive and the judiciary. The Governor-General appoints judges on the advice of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, but the Leader of the Opposition has no power to block the Prime Minister’s choice. Effectively, the Prime Minister appoints the judiciary. The unseemly spectacle that emerged surrounding the appointment of the present Chief Justice should make every right thinking person shudder, but the Prime Minister got his man.
Another cause of concern that does nothing to put a distance between the Executive and the judiciary is the fact that a high court judge could only be promoted to the Court of Appeal with the Prime Minister’s blessing. Just imagine that you have a case against the Government in the High Court and there is a vacancy in the Court of Appeal, and immediately after you lost the case, the judge who presided in your case is promoted to the Court of Appeal. Would you be able to shake the belief that the judge sold you out for the promotion? Whenever a person loses a case against the Government or the court awards small damages against the Crown, there will always be the lingering belief that something went wrong because of the non-existence of a separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary, which takes away a judge’s independence. There is a saying that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done: there will never be the appearance of justice being done as long as the Government maintains its control over the judiciary.