Like many Barbadians, I am exceedingly proud of the bold step which this nation is taking as we embark on our journey to republicanism. It is with that patriotic spirit that I watched the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament as they elected the first President of our coming Republic. I had hoped, like many, that the day would be one of joyous celebration, for we have waited so long for this moment, as well as solemn reflection, as we contemplate the journey thus far and where we have yet to go. It was a day designed to be bereft of partisan rancour, a day for unbridled patriotism.
Ultimately however, that was not entirely the case. In particular, one gentleman, your Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, sought to bring the entire dignified proceedings into disrepute, in the process affronting the Parliament, the country and indeed, you, as his Leader. While I would never presume to tell you how to exercise your constitutional duties, it no doubt appears that there is no choice but to either ask the gentleman for his resignation, and if he refuses, to recommend to the Governor General that he be replaced in the Senate. I take no delight in that position, but it is the only way to staunch the bleeding. I rest this contention upon three principal grounds.
Firstly, the gentleman has repeatedly been publicly at variance with you. In our system of government, the parliamentary leader and members of his frontbench must be in lockstep. This is particularly so in the Senate, where those appointed on your recommendation, are entirely dependent upon you for their continued service. While disagreement is par for the course, the matter before us is not a resolution to acquire land. The constitutional ordering of this nation at its highest level is of such paradigmatic importance, that any disagreement on that, means that there is an irredeemable loss of confidence on the part of both parties, for how can you agree on the ‘little things’ if the ‘biggest thing’ is so contentious. A man cannot be led by a person in whom he does not confidence, nor can a man lead another in whom he has no confidence. Little wonder then that in comments to the press, he delivered of himself a fatal remark, that to partake in the process would have made him “look like a fool”. Sir, you participated in the process, in fact you advanced a joint nomination. Sir, you cannot lead a man who thinks you to be a fool.
Further, the reasons advanced for his conduct are disingenuous at best. The gentleman pretends that his issue was with the ballot. The fact is, however, that there never would have been a ballot, unless he objected (note that in Trinidad, there is no constitutional provision to allow objections when there is only one candidate). Did he object in order to have a ballot so that he could again object? Is that the philosophy of the PdP: mindless objection? He alleged to the press that there was no way for him to vote against if he wanted to. We now know that not to be true. The Parliament makes rules to regulate itself, and parliamentarians were instructed that with the ballot paper, they could have indicated approval, disapproval or abstention, with a tick, an x or ‘abstain’. What then is the true reason for his conduct?
Worst of all, the gentleman cast a long shadow over one of this country’s most historic days. A survey of the social media platforms suggests that the national conversation was not dominated by this country decisively reaffirming our confidence in ourselves or by the fact that a young woman from St. Philip would be this country’s first President. No sir, these events were seemingly overshadowed by the gentleman’s conduct. Whether it was his intention or not, his conduct gave rise to this distraction. This, perhaps, is his greatest sin. That on a day that was about Barbados, about all of us, about our past and our future, about hope tempered by pragmatism, we discussed none of these things, we discussed a single man all day.
I don’t know when, but at some point, we began to think that democracy is an adversarial blood sport of scorched earth tactics. I say, emphatically, that it is not. That if we want a solid democracy as we transition to republican status, we must have politicians who exercise maturity, who can disagree with dignity and honestyand still reach across the aisle in times of national crisis and times of national pride. That is the democracy to which we ought always to aspire.
The gentleman may continue to disagree with everything, as is the right of any in this country, but like the rest of us, he can do so outside of the precincts of Parliament, where will not affront our democracy and our nation.
Bishop Atherley, I know you to be a man with an abiding love for our nation. Every second that this iniquity persists is a stain on this country. The people of Barbados do not deserve this. I ask you, sir, simply, to do the right thing.