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Mashing the crease

I begin this column by congratulating the architects, editor and members of staff, contributors and readers of Barbados Today for a job well done. After three years, it is clear that Barbados Today has largely allowed for opportunities to meet expectations in a general sense, and more particularly, the online newspaper has been able to capture the imaginations and attention of its global readership.

In advancing towards the more substantive issues to be laid out in this column, there is the possibility that a date already may have been announced regarding the next general elections in Barbados. This announcement, being more belated than it is strategic, strikes at the cornerstone of Barbados’ democratic culture and the ethos of a people that had to struggle for freedom and the very right to vote.

The announcement of an imminent election date, coming more than five years after the DLP Administration won the ballots held on January 15, 2008, has set up a possible collision between the will of the people and the spirit of the laws. While it is clear that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has not yet broken any constitutional law, and that he is probably unlikely to do so, there is a contention that he is mashing the crease in a manner vexatious to many varied publics.

Political philosopher, John Locke, charged leaders and decision-makers to be aware that:

Because it may be too great temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons who have the power of making laws to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make. And suit the laws, both in its making and execution to their own private advantage.

It is not for me to pass a universal judgement on whether Prime Minister Stuart has made an incursion into the fabric holding together the Barbados society – that is, the spirit of the laws, the culture of its people, and the ethos that glues disparate parts and interests.

However, there is a national discourse that has to be started in which the average man and woman can raise concerns on their social, political, and moral rights. It is imperative that the linkages existing between the state agents and citizenry are made explicit and unambiguous; this is preferable to the implicit, and in certain cases, an ambiguous body of law.

There are too many things that we the people of Barbados continue to take for granted regarding opportunities and expectations. The annexation between opportunity and expectation becomes consequential from the actions of the governing confronting the expectations of the governed. There are simply too many unpalatable answers that have brought rebuke to Barbados’ systems of affairs whilst not providing the outcomes and best practices that ought to be forthcoming in a maturing independent nation.

Barbados’ electoral system has over time worked relatively well to the point that Barbados has been showcased to the world as having political stability. Barbados has been afforded the institutional mechanisms to ensure the smooth transitioning of one political regime to the next, even if from time to time, these institutions need to be reformed.

It is the precarious developments that follow the struggle for power and the right to govern that are likely to challenge the efficacy of democratic and representative traditions in Barbados. Understanding the culture of a people and the mores that undergirds this particular Barbadian society is to be juxtaposed with another series of questions that will bring focus to the integrity of Barbados’ electoral system.

Indeed, it is very likely that in the aftermath of the upcoming general elections, the judiciary may have to intercede given the matters that some persons have already predicted may be encounters too close to call or situations that have punitively divided the society.

Moreover, the Barbadian electorate, through their newly appointed representatives in the Barbados House of Assembly ought to be calling for necessary and explicit reforms and/or fine tuning to governance institutions and the electoral mechanisms. The newly appointed Members of Parliament may find the timely necessity to address serious issues that have lingered from past elections, or that have blossomed within the span of silence regarding the actual date of the upcoming general elections.

Barbadians, regardless of political affiliation or support, would be called upon to exercise their most potent foil to failed expectations, or more hidden, to a period of more than five years of unimpressive governance. To be precise, the electorate has to start making its claims known to its representatives that there is a need for the reassurance of the social and political rights that follow citizenship and the social contract; and that the peoples’ needs must be priority.

The politicians must inform civil society and the people on their available choices. Good decision-making requires information that ensures the inviolability of the ballot box. This is only bypassed when there is a futile expression emanating from the people because of apathy and the apolitical. The people, as a measure of ensuring that democracy prevails, must in fact have certainty regarding the laws and the spirit of the laws.

Sir Henry Forde, speaking in the House of Assembly in 1986 suggested that, “politicians sometimes have themselves to blame if the electorate see them in less than the status in which they ought to be seen, because some of us destroy ourselves” in the manner in which there are lies told and in which there are efforts to “attack the characters of other people, or inspire anonymous people to do so”.

By George, this is a caveat that should inform the canvassing, platform speeches, and advertising that have thus far pilloried the Barbadian politician from grace. First-time candidates emerging from both sides of the political divide ought to be concerned.

There can be no merit or sense of societal enrichment if a lackadaisical prime minister and a wary DLP may have exploited a loophole in the laws of Barbados. At the same time, the BLP’s counteracting discourses that were mounted in the name of rightful protest actions have gone subdued on account of thorough explanations as to the extent that political opportunities must also meet the expectations of the people.

This is not to say that the national electoral system does not live and breathe with the expectations of the general public, but to concretise the fact that there will always be some bifurcation between written law and the spirit of the law.

On this point, Montesquieu advocated that “he legislative power in a free state … has a right and ought to have the means of examining in what manner its laws have been executed”. This pronouncement would seemingly support the view that post-elections reform and/or judicial review will be required to enhance the system of governance in Barbados in time for any general elections after 2013.

Again, Stuart is within a legal and constitutional right to withhold the announcement of a general election date notwithstanding that the DLP is into its sixth year of reign without an intervening quest to regain a mandate from the people. Importantly, if one does accept that law is not so contained within a vacuum and that the ethos, mores, and political culture of a society has to be included in the determinations of the laws governing the society, one would soon begin to question the rightness or wrongness of the recent actions relied upon by Prime Minister Stuart and the DLP strategists.

Indeed, it has now become a constant that the DLP administration is resolute in its policy position not to disrupt or dislocate the public sector in terms of worker retrenchment. At the same time, the private sector has sought differing forms of relief from government with little to keep at bay the likelihood of sending home workers to join the already long lines of unemployed persons.

So that for the private sector at least, there are issues of planning and investments that are likely to be forestalled due to the uncertainty surrounding the timing of a general elections.

Would it not be fair to say that official government action or inaction may in fact be crippling to a private sector and cause divisions within the broader society since it would not be simply whether the official (the PM) or agency (the DLP administration) violated the law, but rather whether the official or agency violated any duty to the people of Barbados inclusive of the private sector and the many people needing some certainty in order to effect decision making in the ordering of their lives and livelihoods?

The thrust of my arguments will advance and support the need for reforms, and for governments, Bees or Dems to work towards meeting the expectations of the citizenry. National development ascribes to the view that it ought to be people-centred and so does the Constitution of Barbados. Given that there are such things to be considered as the social contract between the governing and governed, and the implications surrounding political obligation to the state and agents of the state. By George, one cannot disagree with the people asking questions about the timeliness of a general election date.

My knowledge of Locke’s teaching on issues of governance and the legislature, and coupled with Montesquieu’s more explicit doctrine of the separation of powers and the spirit of the laws, and then Rousseau’s impactful insights on the social contract and the implications of duties and responsibilities to be performed in recognition that the people may at some point feel unobligated to give consent to a government, it is time that the people be given a hearing and their right to exercise their vote. Let the people decide who shall govern Barbados!

On June 25, 1986 in the Throne Speech, a DLP administration through the Governor General of Barbados articulated the view that “my Government is committed to heightening the culture awareness of Barbadians about their cultural heritage and traditions. In this connection, further intellectual enquiry into our past will be undertaken so that we may be better guardians of our heritage”.

I trust that this article stimulates rather than stifles debate regarding Barbados’ electoral system, the powers of the Prime Minister, the calling of an election, and the host of things that are likely to flow from the events impacting on Barbados at this time.

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