A Jeff Cumberbatch Column – An Unforeseen Event

A few people only would have accurately predicted the outcome of last Thursday’s general election that resulted in the former Opposition Barbados Labour Party romping to victory by capturing all thirty of the parliamentary seats at stake.

Among those who we may number as not having foreseen such an eventuality would have been the framers of our 1966 Constitution. Indeed, if we were to judge from the text they produced, it might be argued that, to the contrary, they contemplated that there would always be an opposition in parliament and a possible leader thereof, although that individual might not always be willing to serve in that role.

This is my assessment from a reading of the various sections of the Constitution pertinent to the issue. First, there is section 74 (1) that appears to presume the continuous existence of an Opposition in Parliament –

There shall be a Leader of the Opposition, who shall be appointed by the Governor-General by instrument under the Public Seal.

Second, section 74 (2) provides for the mode of his or her appointment, once more apparently making an identical assumption-

Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Leader of the Opposition he shall appoint the member of the House of Assembly who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of those members who do not support the Government, or if there is no such person, the member of that House who, in his judgment, commands the support of the largest single group of such members who are prepared to support one leader: [Emphasis added]

At least two of my learned friends, Justice Christopher Blackman in last Sunday’s issue of the Sunday Sun, and Ms Lynette Eastmond in Tuesday’s Barbados Advocate, have expressed the view that the issue is satisfactorily resolved by the provision in section 75. According to this-

During any period in which there is a vacancy in the office of Leader of the Opposition by reason of the fact that no person is both qualified in accordance with this Constitution for, and willing to accept, appointment to that office, the Governor-General shall-

(a) act in his discretion in the exercise of any function in respect of which it is provided in this Constitution that the Governor-General shall act in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition; and

(b) act on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in the exercise of any function in respect of which it is provided in this Constitution that the Governor-General shall act on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition…

It seems clear from a preliminary reading of this turgidly drafted section that while it is premised on the absence or non-existence of a Leader of the Opposition, that premise is not the broad one contended for by some in the present scenario, but rather is cribbed, cabined and confined by that absence or non-existence being for the express reason stated and that reason only, namely, by reason of the fact that no person is both qualified in accordance with this Constitution for, and willing to accept, appointment to that office… [Emphasis mine]

We should note that the section does not present the two elements as alternatives, in which case the draftsman would have used “or”, but rather as cumulative (“and”), thereby intending that both elements should be satisfied. Nor does it seem to import clearly that the second element (willingness to accept) is relevant only where the first element of qualification is satisfied.

It is readily conceded that the section is regrettably drafted and it is to be negatively contrasted with the much more lucid (though to different effect) provision to be found in section 83 (6) of the Trinidad & Tobago Republican Constitution of 1976-

Where the office of Leader of the Opposition is vacant, whether because there is no member of the House of Representatives so qualified for appointment or because no one qualified for appointment is willing to be appointed, or because the Leader of the Opposition has resigned his office or for any other reason, any provision in this Constitution requiring consultation with the Leader of the Opposition shall, in so far as it requires such consultation, be of no effect. [Emphasis mine]

It would appear that both of my learned friends and others have read the Barbadian provision as being identical to this one, when in fact it is not; since the T&T section requires only one of the stipulated prerequisites to be satisfied.

In the absence of a clear provision to cater to the current circumstances, the Honourable Prime Minister, Ms Mia Mottley, seemingly in agreement with the argument advanced here, has graciously indicated her preference for a constitutional amendment that would permit the party, other than that which comprises the governing administration, that captured the most votes in the election to nominate two members of the Senate, as the official Opposition would be able to in ordinary circumstances.

This amendment too will require careful drafting as it purports too alter, even if only slightly, the entitlement to Senate representation from one of the number of those first past the post to a semblance of proportional representation. I imagine, however, that she is contemplating a sunset clause to fit the current scenario. It is now up to the Democratic Labour Party to determine whether it will be aware of Greeks bearing gifts or whether it will look this gift horse intently in the mouth.

It is not an open and shut matter and will bring into sharp focus the regard of the political effectiveness of the Senate in our system of governance.

A Heather Cole Column – Historic 30-0 Win for BLP: Constitutional Constraint or Opportunity?

There has been much discussion over the past 5 days about the 30 – 0 victory of the Barbados Labour Party over the for Democratic Labour Party government and other newer political parties at the General Elections which were held on May 24, 2018. It was a historic and resounding victory for the Barbados Labour Party as they not only received the mandate to govern unopposed but the first female Prime Minister of Barbados, Ms. Mia Amor Mottley was elected.

With the decimation of the main opposition, most persons resorted to the Constitution for guidance. The founding fathers clearly did not anticipate that such a situation would occur. Hence, the Constitution does not provide any guidance on this issue. It only states that the democratic process to produce a government would consist of the winning party which obtains most seats and an Opposition which won the remaining seats and that both would constitute the government. No exceptions are mentioned. There being no opposition, only members of Parliament of the current Administration can sit in the lower House of Parliament.

Some may be of the view that this 30-0 win is a constraint on the democratic system as there are no longer any checks and balances on the system or transparency and that the Constitution should be amended to make provision for some semblance of an opposition as the new government will do as it pleases without oversight. Most importantly there is a worry about the preservation of democracy if the island is a 2-party system.

The Constitution does not advocate the use of Senators in lieu of there being no Opposition elected as part of government. The Prime Minister was therefore very gracious to seek to amend the Constitution to allow Members from the Democratic Labour Party which polled the second highest percentage of votes to be appointed to the Senate. Another alternative that could have been pursued was to simply increase the pool of independent senators. Whether one likes it or not, this may end up being the case because for the majority of the population the credibility of the Democratic Labour ceases to exist and the majority of the people may not even want them to walk up the steps of Parliament again.

One can be of a different view that a unique opportunity has presented itself making the 30-0 victory a blessing in disguise. With over 50 years of self-governance behind us and going as far as we can with a 2-party system, the time as come to go to the next level in democracy. That is to empower the people to fully participate in the governance of Barbados.

It was indeed heartening when for the first time in history of electoral politics in Barbados that a draft Manifesto was presented to the people by the Barbados Labor Party for their thoughts, discussion, comment and input. One wonders why this never occurred before. Perhaps at the beginning of our independence when the majority were only educated to 7th standard they needed the government alone to decide their needs and what was best for the country. However, after 50 years of independence and the majority having obtained secondary education and a thousands of university graduates, one wonders why a Manifesto coming from the people was not on the table until this election.

It would be a waste given the heightened political discussions that emanated throughout the island since the dissolution of Parliament on March 6th, 2018 for most people to revert to lives void of politician participation. Without an Opposition, the responsibility also falls on the electorate to maintain the democracy. It is for the good of the country as we seek to rebuild Barbados not only economically and socially but politically as well.

A 30-0 majority further provides the opportunity for greater input of Barbadians in the process of governance; whether it be in oversight, checks and balances, in decision making and by referendum and constituency councils. Members were selected for the constituency councils under the previous Administration, but they have failed to perform.

To this end the Government Information Service can be used as a tool to provide a body of knowledge to educate all citizens and residents, preparing them for active participation by providing the training for the empowerment of the people. The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and the Internet can be used as the medium to ensure that this becomes a reality.

One hopes that this 30-0 historic victory will signal the end of an era when the people only participated politically by casting ballots every five years and heralds the commencement of revolutionary changes as part of the rebuilding process making Barbados a participatory democracy. One can argue that with active continuous participation that not only will the people have a greater interest in their governance, participate more in the polls and reduce the numbers who do not vote but more importantly that we all can truly sing the part of the national anthem which states that we are “strict guardians of our heritage, firm craftsmen of our fate.”

The People Have Spoken … or have they?

Submitted by Tee White

Following the unprecedented Barbados Labour Party (BLP) 30-0 victory over the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the general elections, an often heard statement from both winning and losing candidates is that the people have spoken. But does an analysis of the election results support this claim?

According to CaribbeanElections website, there were 255,833 people registered to vote in the 2018 election. Combining data from VOB and Caribbean Elections, I have calculated that 153, 547 people actually cast a valid ballot. Of these, 112,249 cast a vote for the winning BLP. In other words, 44% of registered voters voted for the BLP while 56% did not. This could hardly be described as “the people have spoken”.

If David’s statement that “A manifesto is a bunch of promises designed to woo an ignorant electorate. The real business begins as far as managing the economy” is accurate, then the situation is even more dire. Since not only are we dealing with a government elected by a minority of the population but there is also the very real likelihood that many of those who voted for the winning party have been deliberately misled. It is difficult to understand why in the light of this reality, we continue to insist that we have in our country a democratic political system, by which I understand government of the people, by the people and for the people. Would it not be more accurate to acknowledge that we have a fundamentally undemocratic political system that we have inherited from slavery and colonialism but to which our fore-parents through numerous sacrifices have added some political rights that we enjoy, including universal adult suffrage?

From a constitutional point of view, sovereignty, or supreme power in this system, lies in the hands of the queen of England. Through the royal prerogative, she has the absolute power via her representative, the Governor General, to dismiss any government elected in Barbados and even to dismiss the entire parliament, as happened in Australia in 1975. Added to this is the fact that the promises made by the parties vying for power have no legal force and so once Bajans have marked their x on the ballot paper, there is nothing they can do to force a government to carry out its promises nor prevent it from doing things which it never mentioned in its election campaign. Through these arrangements and others, ordinary Bajans are left disempowered and marginalised from the decision making in the country.

Something else is needed. In the same way that previous generations of Bajans had to work out how to end the iniquitous system of slavery and then how to win various political and social rights, including formal political independence, our generation is faced with the task of shaping political arrangements in our country that empower the mass of the people and end our marginalisation from political power. We do not need to emulate anybody else’s model as we can think for ourselves. What if we ended the system of party government and political parties existed solely to politicise the society and to advocate for different approaches to solving the problems we face? What if the electorate itself set the government’s programme before each election through extensive discussion of the issues that needed to be dealt with, in this way becoming informed about the reality of the situation and the complexity of the problems that needed to be solved? What if the programme once agreed had the force of law and the government’s performance was continuously evaluated against the targets set within it? What if the candidates themselves were chosen not by political parties but by citizens bearing in mind the skills sets and experience that successful completion of the government’s programme would require? What if elected representatives were held to account for their performance by accountability committees made up of citizens with interest and expertise in particular areas? What if all government finances operated under a system of extreme transparency in which each citizen had a right to information on how all public money was collected and spent?

Just putting it out there.

Mottley and BLP Create History 30-0

Update: 6:50 AM – They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The BU household points visitors to the traditional media sites to gather details about the final counts. The only  number that is important in the 2018 Barbados General Election is a 30-0 result in favour of the Barbados Labour Party led by Mia Mottley.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman!

Update: 2:50 AM – more details to come soon to describe an historic win by the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).

On behalf of the BU household we extend congratulations to Mottley and team.

David – blogmaster

As midnight approaches on the day a General Election was held in Barbados, not a single box has been declared by a Returning Officer. There are disturbing reports starting to emerge, the blogmaster will hold his tongue for the moment- with great difficulty. At this point the reason being circulated is that the special boxes were delivered late to the counting centres. It begs the question why have these boxes were delivered late!


2018 General Election BUzz

The eagerly awaited 2018 General Election is finally here. Unlike previous elections we have not had a CADRES Poll to ‘control’ the debate. The blogmaster’s view on polling in the days and weeks before an election can be found on BU’s pages- it compromises the process.

The blogmaster has grown cynical of late after observing how the majority of the citizens are satisfied with a process best described as ‘political musical chairs’ we love to play every election cycle. Today is the one day in the governance process Barbadians exert the power to dictate to the political directorate who they want to lead the country. The down side is that after exercising our civic duty the system is ‘hijacked’ by those elected to SERVE.

One of the most used words in the political lexicon is CHANGE. The use of the word reached a ‘crescendo’ in 2008 with the rise of Barack Obama. Are we the citizenry satisfied the change which has been promised every election cycle bar none was satisfactorily delivered?   At this juncture in our history what has to change? What can we the PEOPLE do to determine how members of the political class – who are elected to serve the us by the way – to force change to our governance setup?

Polling stations will open from 6AM to 6PM.



Record Numbers Eligible to Vote in 2018 Barbados General Election

Submitted by Caribbeansignal.com

255,833 persons will be eligible to vote in Thursday’s general election. This number was disclosed to caribbeansignal.com earlier tonight by an official from the Electoral & Boundaries Commission. There is also a possibility that an addendum will be made and that this number will increase by a very small amount. For comparison: 249,024 persons were eligible to vote in 2013, 235,510 in 2008 and 220,093 in 2003. The EBC source also revealed that 3,019 persons were eligible to vote early on May 17 and that there were 16 foreign service electors.

Read full text – Barbados Elections 2018: Record Breaking Numbers