It has become obvious in recent years to the thinking citizen of Barbados that our system of government is in need of an overhaul. The inability of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to function under successive governments or the disregard of the findings of the Auditor General are two examples of the dysfunction. The Upper House (Senate) has become nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Lower House and the Lower House has denigrated to poorakeyness.
The challenge for civic minded Barbadians is how do we effectively advocate to force change. The reality is that our system of democracy has been hijacked by the political class and the unwillingness to make obvious changes.
The current state of our democracy brings into focus the role of the backbencher. Of the 16 members of parliament on the government side 13 are frontbenchers and the Speaker makes 14. Only Mara Thompson and James Paul represent the backbench – to ensure the workings of parliament Thompson performs the role of Deputy Speaker and Paul Chairman of Committees. There is no backbench!
The current configuration of the Barbados parliament does not represent how the Westminster parliamentary system is meant to function by the framers. No backbench in the Barbados parliament means that the prime minister does not have the opportunity to use a political Whip. The result is that we have had to tolerate a level of indiscipline by actors on the government side hitherto seen and perhaps best represented by David Estwick brandishing a weapon in the Lower House in the last session of parliament.
No backbench also means that there is no opportunity for dissenting opinion to influence government’s agenda. There is no need to be prolix on the problem we currently face. Our system must be designed to be always influenced by the PEOPLE.