Twisting the rules

If there is one category of professionals our two houses of Parliament has not been short of in the last half century it would have to be lawyers.

If we add to that number those many attorneys who have tried their hands at elective politics and lost, again we would have to conclude there is no shortage of lawyers in politics.

Journalism, on the other hand, has attracted so few lawyers over the years that it is possible to count the number of lawyer/journalists on one hand and still have the majority of your fingers available for other tasks — so we will proceed cautiously.

Article 10A, Chapter 3 of the Election Offences and Controversies Act of the Laws of Barbados states that:

“A person is guilty of an illegal practice who before, during or after an election supplies to another person, or wears any apparel or form of dress bearing a political slogan, photograph or image advertising any particular candidate or party in the election”.

While lawyers write laws and other lawyers [or the same lawyers in other places years later] interpret them, we can’t help but conclude from our unschooled position that somehow there has been one massive flouting of the laws of Barbados nightly since the 2013 general elections campaign started.

One does not have to look too far or even stretch the imagination to see the many messages that are clearly directed at promotion of candidate or party. In fact, in some cases the names of the candidates are emblazoned across the backs or fronts of shirts.

We cannot speak with any authority to the intent of this law, which would have been passed when Tom Adams was Prime Minister of Barbados, and we will not even suggest that there is something inherently negative about tee-shirts of a particular colour or those that bear some political massage, but the law is the law and on the face of it — “A person is guilty of an illegal practice who before, during or after an election supplies to another person, or wears any apparel or form of dress bearing a political slogan, photograph or image advertising any particular candidate or party in the election”, seems pretty straight forward to us.

If as a national community there is a widespread view that the use of such items serves the democratic process well and contributes to a wider participation of citizens in the determination of what sort of Government they will have, then we ought to repeal this law. But while it remains on the statute books it ought to be respected.

We are very happy about the fact that in Barbados our people can wear their yellow or red, pass each other on the streets, greet each other warmly and there is not a hint of animosity or violence. We are forever grateful that we live in a country where thousands of people wearing red can gather at a location and work themselves into a frenzy, and the following night just as many wearing yellow can do the same and no one takes offence.

But when those who lead start stretching the law, those who follow will eventually do their own stretching. We need to be careful about the precedents we set.

That’s why we felt in 2007/2008 the excuses about the erection of billboards were as flimsy as they are in 2013 — and the fact that both parties are engaged in it does not make the cases they put forward any stronger. We are reasonably sure the 28-day grace period built into the Town Planning laws was not intended to be used in this way.

How would we react if for Crop-Over some “enterprising” entrepreneur sets up stalls along the highway, knowing full well they are illegal, but fully aware that by the expiry 28 days he will be given to remove them by the Town and Country Planning Development Office he would already have made his money.

Then again we remember Rockers Alley and the Deacons Road stalls and how for some, 28 days grace is never an option. Four general elections ago then MP for St. Joseph Dr. Richard Cheltenham (now Sir Richard) warned we were creating two Barbadoses — if we ever needed a clear example of this, general elections 2013 is putting a “Windex shine” on the matter.

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