The backbencher (backbench) in the parliamentary system of governance practiced in Barbados has an important role to play. Backbenchers are available to sit on the important working committees of parliament or add to the bench strength of the government if the prime minister is dissatisfied with the performance of members of Cabinet. In an ideal situation backbenchers are free to speak unencumbered by the convention of collective ministerial responsibility.
The quality of the backbench under a Mottley tenure has raised its head again during the just concluded Estimates Debate. The lack of elected members of parliament to form an opposition has created a farcical situation of the government having to manufacturer opportunities to question and probe policies.
There is a reality that cannot be refuted. The role of an effective opposition in our parliament is an important one. The impact of the Three Blind Mice comprised of Messrs Owen Arthur, David Simmons and Henry Ford to debates in the Lower Chamber immediately springs to mind. The vacuum of a legitimate opposition in parliament was reinforced recently when the public was made aware of the uneventful passing of the Barbados Identity Management Act. Under normal circumstances a legitimate opposition in parliament would have been well placed to amplify concerns during the ‘readings’ of the legislation on behalf of the citizenry.
The late prime minister Owen Arthur was derogatory in his description of the House of Assembly as being poorakey while a sitting member. The blogmaster recalls during this poorakey era more Barbadians have been followig debates in the Upper Chamber, especially when former senators Caswell Franklyn, Joseph Atherley, Crystal Drakes et al led the charge.
The inability of members of other political parties to find favour with the electorate for two consecutive general elections has created a dysfunctional system of governance. In the relatively short period before the next general election, the blogmaster’s prayer is that good talent presents to challenge members of the sitting Barbados Labour Party to correct the obvious dysfunction as a good first step to transform the business of governance in Barbados. Frankly it has become an embarrassment to follow current debates in the Lower House compared to the not too recent past the likes of Tom Adams, Richie Haynes, Branford Taitt, Henry Forde, Billie Miller, Bree St. John and others. It should come as no surprise the decline of Barbados coincided with the rise of a poorakey parliament.
How can Barbadians reverse the trend of twenty or thirty diehard supporters of the two main political parties on a Sunday afternoon being responsible for the quality of talent being rotated through our parliament? Some blame the politicians, others blame the electorate- it is your classic chicken and the egg argument.