Who will bell the cat, Bizzy?
Prominent businessman Ralph “Bizzy” Williams did quite a bit of talking this past week.
But one thing that stood out for us in the midst of all of his public utterances was what he had to say about election financing, and in particular alleged vote buying, which proved quite intriguing to say the least.
Speaking at the annual First Citizens Investment Services Market Outlook Panel Discussion at Frank Collymore Hall on Thursday night, the chairman of Williams Industries Limited boldly declared that “no politician should have to come to somebody like me to ask for assistance to finance an election campaign, because I might ask him in return to do me a special favour, if he gets elected.
“I am talking about private companies, public companies and individuals. I believe very strongly that the State should finance election campaigns for the political parties, and they should provide enough finance to articulate their plans for the future of the country very clearly to the population.”
With all the economic pressure the Government is currently under, we would like to set aside the State financing argument for now, except to say that businesses which operate and thrive within our domestic space cannot simply absent themselves — conveniently so either — from the very process that would determine how they are allowed to operate for five years at a time.
However, we believe there needs to be greater scrutiny and monitoring of the role played by business enterprises in the entire electioneering process to determine whether their participation serves to uphold or corrupt what is meant to be a democratic procedure.
For while our politicians should know by now that there is no such thing as a free lunch, it seems some simply cannot help themselves at the buffet table. However, the onus must also be that of the financiers to operate within the rules and in our island’s best interest.
It is therefore our sincere hope that powerful businesses like Williams’, which could better afford, would temper their demands on Government and seek to put country first, even if they supported one or all campaigns in the last election.
Williams is further contending that “people who break the rules should be severely punished”, that “vote buying should be punishable by imprisonment and disqualification from holding public office in Barbados for life”, and that individuals who seek to bribe politicians should be given prison sentences.
It is an all too familiar refrain which takes us back to Election Night 2013 and the promises of our duly elected Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, backed up by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, that they will seek to get to the bottom of what the Prime Minister described then as the “ugly practice” of vote buying, which he said “digs at the roots of democratic structures”.
We wonder aloud what has become of the promised investigation and what, if anything, would happen on this before we are constitutionally due to return to the polls again in another three to four years.
Were the Prime Minister or the AG to do as threatened, we think many a politician would be found to have run afoul of the law; so too would countless businesses whose only interest in the outcome of elections it would seem is how it impacts on their bottomline, without care for whether the result is reflective of the will of the people.
All of this has led to the very credibility gap, which Williams alluded to, that now exists between the governed and the governing.
As he puts it, Barbadians looking around and not believing what they are hearing “simply because of the track record of those who are speaking”.
“When you go and tell people you are going to do this and then you do something different, people lose credibility and confidence in what you are saying.
“And when your leadership is not believable and they don’t operate with the kind of integrity that you expect, you have problems and that is the thing I believe we are facing here . . . .”
But the question remains: Who will bell the cat, or indeed close the stable door now that the horse has bolted and is now gone? Not the greedy politician for sure, or his equally avaricious business accomplice.
We agree with Williams that we all have to get serious about governing this country and that we cannot allow a lackadaisical approach to enforcing the law.
But it begins and ends with the individual – individual politician and individual businessman – who must have the interest of the Team Barbados at heart.