We deserve better
by Mervyn Holligan
The present system of governance is in urgent need of reform, for Barbadians to become the authors of their own life and the drivers of a national renaissance. The state needs to be more accountable, transparent, and more democratic. It needs to listen, to respond, to be open and honest, and to harness the energies of the ordinary men and women and arrest the drift towards the deviant behaviour being displayed by some. The people at large need to feel that the system does not neglect them, understands them, and has necessary debates with them in order to explain rather than being dismissive of them.
They need reliable and nonpartisan sources of information and genuine opportunities to participate fully in the political life of the country and politics itself, to possess the power to make a difference.
A herd-like populace, conservative and partisan media that fosters political tribalism and disregards the impartiality of the facts, does not hold the powerful to account. In fact, it trivializes the quest for objectivity and lets all of us down. Regrettably, at times our adversarial system appears remote, populated by politicians whose commitment to fairness and justice seems abstract and distant.
For any political party presiding over a transformation, the precondition must be a rediscovery and a reanimation of a core set of values that can unite while giving edge and energy to all our thinkers and doers. Above all, a wholesale commitment to accountability, honesty and transparency is vital. An understanding of what they entail and encouragement of them at every turn is also necessary.
A new culture and a new spirit is required, in which awareness of public opinion, responsive engagement, and a commitment to accountability, fairness and openness together become the driver to move us forward. It cannot be business as usual.
I think that an improvement to the present system of governance based on the following planks should be considered:
1. Full-time parliamentary representatives in the House of Assembly; a reduction in the number of MPs; a streamlined Cabinet with fewer ministerial positions; Members of
Parliament seen as representatives of all their constituents and not mere party delegates.
2. Reintroduction of Local Government through local elections.
A streamlined Local Government should be funded by subventions and given some spending powers to deal with local issues as determined by Central Government.
3. All members of the Senate to be elected. The Senate shall be a genuine revising Chamber.
4. Introduction of Select Parliamentary Committees with powers to scrutinize in public the work of the executive. Civil Servants, members of Statutory Boards, and other witnesses would be mandated to appear to give evidence if required to do so.
5. Ministerial accountability should be reviewed so as to make ministers more accountable to the House
6. At the start of a new Parliament, open up the election process for the office of the Speaker of the House of Assembly to either a Government MP or an Opposition MP.
7. Introduce provisions for a recall of an MP if he/she is found to be involved in illegal activities, absenting himself/herself for unexplained periods of time from constituency/parliamentary work. There should be built-in protection from vexatious/frivolous claims.
8. An MP should be forced to resign and face the electorate in a by-election if he/she wants to cross the floor to join another party.
9. The Head of State to be elected by unanimous secret conclave of MPs.
10. Be more inclusive by allocating the official Opposition two days each session for Opposition Day Debate – a debate organized by the Opposition on a topic of its own choosing.
11. Timely quarterly press conferences when the Prime Minister and/or ministers meet the press and journalists may put questions on policy issues of their own choosing without fear of victimization.
12. Reduce the level of patronage and cronyism by opening up senior government positions (statutory boards, etc.) to open competition.
13. Introduce a Freedom of Information Act. The Act should grant the public access to documents and information that detail the intimate workings of government in the interest of good governance. Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance and defective policy decisions.
14. An Integrity Commission which deals with:
a) Declaration of assets by parliamentary representatives, senior civil servants and public officers on assuming and demitting office; and
b) Provisions for prosecuti on of ministers, MPs, civil servants, public officers and others found to be involved in corruption. They should allow the criminal process to be activated even after the individual has left office.
15. Cap on election expenditure. Parties should be obliged to declare the source of all donations. Introduce/simplify the legal process to follow-up election malpractices (i.e. vote buying)
16. Provisions for more timely judicial reviews, especially where it is evident that the actions of the executive may be deemed to be ultra vires.
It is important to see a renewal of our country’s faith in the ability of its government and politics to deliver a nation with shared values and purpose, where accountability, openness, compliance, and timely and rigorous enforcement of our laws are at the forefront of everything we do – a Barbados which we all feel part of and in whose future we all have a stake, in which what I want for my children I want for yours