Recently, a bill to amend the Constitution failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority to ensure its passage in the House of Assembly. If that bill were enacted, the compulsory retirement age of persons, holding the offices of Auditor-General and Director of Public Prosecutions, would have been increased from 62 to 67 years of age.
As I understand it, both parties support the idea of increasing the retirement age for those two office holders, in order to bring them in line with the stated policy for the rest of the public service. So why did the amendment fail? The simple answer is that even though the Opposition did not oppose the amendment in principle, its members abstained thereby depriving the bill of the twenty votes needed to ensure its passage.
I did not listen to the debate, and am therefore forced to rely solely on media reports. I would prefer to rely on Hansard (the official verbatim report of proceedings in parliament). Unfortunately, October 24, 2011 was the last time Hansard was published in the Official Gazette and that was the report of the proceedings that took place on October 16, 2007. I am told that in England, the parliament that we mimic, Hansard is available the day after the debate. But I digress, this is a topic for another time.
A sensible government would not have proceeded with that debate unless it was assured of the numbers to pass the bill. Mind you, media reports suggested that the Opposition had communicated to the Government, in advance of the debate, that it was not going to support the amendment at that time, even though it had no quarrel with the object of the bill.
As I understand it, the BLP reasoned that Government’s priorities were misplaced. Why rush to parliament to pass legislation that would benefit only two persons, when Government needed to clarify the law it claims allows it to retire all other public service workers at 60 years?
There was no rush: both incumbents are 58 years old and to benefit them that legislation could have been brought to the House any time in the next four years. But it seems that Government is trashing around to find business to put before the House because it has a very poor legislative agenda.
The Barbados Labour Party took some abuse, from the Government and from its former leader the Right Honourable Owen Arthur, for its stance on the amendment. The criticisms from Government, though puerile, were expected. On the other hand, the criticisms or abuse by Mr. Arthur did more to diminish him in the eyes of the public than any effect it would have had on the recipient.
To my mind, his apparent dislike of the Opposition Leader has so consumed him that it is rendering his contributions in the House to be irrational. If he feels so strongly that Ms Mottley is unfit to assume the high office of Prime Minister, he has a duty to be forthcoming with the people he once led. His continued venomous attacks on her without more make it appear as though, hell hath no fury like Owen Arthur scorned. Again, I digress.
Over the years, I have been relentless in my criticism of the BLP for being a labour party in name only. This time the Opposition, by abstaining to vote, has finally stood up for the workers of this country.
Last year, Government forced several workers, at the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation, to retire at 60 years of age. It even went to court to vigorously defend its right to do so. And while that decision is pending, it had the unashamed temerity to introduce a bill that would have seen the retirement age of two persons increased from 62 to 67.
Like the Opposition, I am beseeching Government to look out for the best interests of all Barbadians and not just a privileged few.