Another Heather Cole Column – An Assault on Democracy
Submitted by Heather Cole
Based on the 2018 Manifesto of the Barbados Labour Party, it was my expectation that a new Barbados would be created that was a place of economic equity and justice for all, a place where poverty could be eradicated and most of all it would become a beacon for democracy.
For me, being guided by a vision of what it would take to create that new Barbados there would have to be participatory democracy, in addition to a movement away from all the colonial institutions, oppressive laws and the present system of education. I foresaw that after the government earned its laurels by resolving the problems that currently plagued this island it could make the move to become a Republic as its next step. I therefore did not anticipate that this Administration would ignore all of its problems and set a wheel in motion to create a Republic. This is the proverbial putting “new wine in old skins.” Mark 2:22 says “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
The action to become a Republic should have nothing to do with the length of time the island has been loitering on the steps of the Colonial Office or removing the Queen of head of state, if nothing else on the island will change. It is a rite of passage that is to be earned by any Administration that runs the island as a sign that the people have a high degree of confidence in their government and are satisfied with their stewardship, having resolved the island’s problems.
I am not opposed to Barbados ever becoming a Republic. At this time I oppose it because:
1. Government has not yet resolved the problems they set out to accomplish in 2018 and other problems have arisen since 2018 that have not been dealt with such has rising prices of food, lack of water, crime, high unemployment, the management of its resources, the age-old problem of the pilferage from the public purse, the awarding of contracts and privileges to the same persons over and over again. One can also add to this the marginalization of the trade union movement in Barbados, high taxation and excessive debt. Instead of bringing solutions to the island’s problems, the government is in constant crisis mode; not confidence. They should fix the problems of Barbados first.
2. The current administration has not passed the Freedom of Information Act, the Transparency Legislation Act and the Integrity Bill. These should have been part of the prerequisites which the government could have used to gain the public’s confidence to agree to a change in status for the country. Nothing was given so nothing should be received.
3. Becoming a republic is not a one man show or the sole undertaking of any Administration. The present Administration, the opposition parties and the people must participate in the process as Barbados is a democracy. If the Electorate is eligible to vote an Administration into office for a temporary period of 5 years should this not speak volumes that they must vote on something that will affect Barbadians for generations to come? Is government set on denying the civil rights of all Barbadians?
4. On one hand, government is dusting off and amending or creating the Constitution based on a document written in 2005. Not only has the world has changed leaps and bounds since then but another generation that was not born or at the age of maturity has no knowledge of this document. On the other hand it is refusing the recommendation from the same 2005 document that was written by one of the most conservative lawyers in Barbados. He stated that there must be a referendum first.
4. The Constitution is the embodiment of the norms and values that become laws in any society. The present Constitution has many laws that must be removed and despite what Sir Henry wrote or did not write in 2005, how in good conscience can anyone ask for input into a Constitution without providing the terms of reference or the framework? In addition there is no guarantee that anyone’s input will become part of the final document as there is no transparency.
For me to be supportive of any substantive constitutional changes, it must be by referendum which clearly outlines the type of Republican status that is being proposed as well as the composition of the Republic which must include the below:
- The power of recall by which Ministers and an Administration can be removed by the people.
- The people’s right to vote for amendments to the Constitution by propositions from the people.
- Prosecutorial powers for the Auditor General
- An elected President and not a holder of that office for life and no holders of office for life. Term elections of 5 years and a 2 term limit for the presidency or such similar position.
- Elected local government officials.
Your word is your bond and we are all cognizant of the fact that the government already broke a promise to the electorate that was in its 2018 manifesto. This was the promise of having a referendum to make recreational marijuana legal. The government reneged on its promised and imposed a fine for small amounts, but the herb is still illegal and still comes with prison sentences. A pattern seems to have developed where the government treats its own people who voted them into power like second class citizens. Next it was the moving the goal post in the Severance Pay Act to the detriment of the poor people when they should have been the ones to receive the $330Million of the tax payer money as their severance.
By now one must be aware of the turmoil that is unfolding in Haiti. There is no end in sight in that country which is plagued with poverty, corruption and now violent unrest. The people are sick and tired of all the corruption; they would love to have a referendum. One has been scheduled but based on their present Constitution; there can be no referendum to change the Constitution. Hopefully Barbados will not become another such victim.
It is time to call this what it is, an assault on democracy. The purpose of democracy is to use the ballot to preserve and extend the rights of the people not to forfeit them. For if the people cannot exercise their civil right that will affect all Barbadians now, how can one expect the document created without their agreement will guarantee that the rights of future Barbadians be preserved?
With violence and crime now pervasive in the land, is this a sign that the lawlessness and disrespect for our laws and people are now abiding in Parliament? If this is the case, surely it is a sign that the government has lost it way and now is not the time to change to a republic, but the time for the next General Election.