An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Our coming transition to republican status is a proud moment for our country. As has been acknowledged before, it is not a slight to Her Majesty, Her Family or the UK, for which we have tremendous respect, but rather represents the ultimate statement of confidence in ourselves and our boundless capacity. Our commemoration of this moment comes at a particularly challenging time for our nation and world, and is thus a much needed, refreshing respite from our collective adversity.
What does not inspire pride however are the attempts by some to sow confusion by exploiting information deficits. Much of the conversation which has ensued has underpinned the need for the reintroduction of the teaching of civics in our schools, not only to foster a greater sense of pride in nationhood but to furnish our citizens with the content necessary to interpret the structures of our great democracy.
It was made quite clear by the Government for some time that the form of Republic which we would adopt would be that proposed by the Forde Commission, which is itself similar to the model used in Trinidad and Dominica, two countries which have not been negatively impacted by their decades under a republican form of government. Barbados will thus have a Parliamentary Republic, with executive power remaining unchanged in the hands of the Cabinet, and with a President, performing a similar role to that of our Governor General, in terms of being the symbolic embodiment of the State and an impartial constitutional figure above the fray of partisan politics.
It was also equally clear that the proposed President would be appointed by an Electoral College, comprising the two Houses of Parliament, similar to the Trinidad model. While some may query why this person will not be directly elected by the populace, it would be ultimately undesirable for occupants of this high constitutional office, intended to be untainted by partisan politics, to have to jockey for popular support in a small society in which such contests would no doubt be mired by partisanship, thus diminishing the impartial stature of the office.
Some wonder too why the election of our Head of State will be left to Parliament. In the first instance, the proposed Electoral College is undoubtedly more democratic than the present, somewhat opaque system where the Governor-General is appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. In the second instance, we live in a representative democracy, in which political power is devolved by the people to Parliament at intervals, and so we must allow our government to govern and our legislature to legislate, jobs which we empower them to do.
In respect of the Electoral College, it is regrettable that the leader of a political party would conflate our proposed system with the US Electoral College. Clearly, an electoral college comprising Members of Parliament and Senators, a system which has been highly successful in various countries, is not at all comparable to the ‘winner-take-all’ popular vote-motivated state delegations which comprise the US Electoral College and which has led to anomalies over the years. Those who aspire to high office ought not to exploit information deficits to divide, but rather contribute to efforts to unify our country.
Much has been made of the level of consultation on this proposed move. None can deny that the issue of becoming a republic has been one of the most talked about in our nation over the years. The matter has been investigated by two Commissions, with the Forde Commission comprehensively outlining how we might take this step, and a proposed Constitution was drafted, after extensive and exhaustive consultation by that Commission which spanned town hall meetings, written submissions, private audiences with civil society actors and even visits to the diaspora abroad. There could not be a more comprehensive conception of consultation.
Clearly though, there will need to be some minor modifications which will no doubt be the subject of consultations over the next few months and beyond. The fact remains that all civil society actors support this move, as well as the overwhelming majority of the populace. To hold a referendum, which has a cost attached, in the midst of this consensus would be an inefficient use of resources at a time when government has more urgent calls on the public purse.
Finally, combining Independence Day and Republic Day is wise, to avoid the productivity losses caused by a proliferation of bank holidays. Equally, to promote the inclusive celebration of all steps on our journey of nationhood, It may be wise to rename November 30, the Day of Nationhood or Barbados Day.
In sum, the time has long past for continued gymnastics over the decision to become a Republic. Clearly, the time has come, in large measure the overarching institutional frameworks are there ready to be operationalised, and so what remains is our collective conscious determination to grasp with both hands the command of our own destiny, as we seek to continually strengthen our democracy, of which the Republic is but one step.