When Hamelin came to Bridgetown

Our politicians do not always shine brightest among us.

But we have frequent occasions where some of our best brains gravitate towards politics and we feel blessed when this redounds positively to the country we call home.

Of course, academic qualifications do not necessarily make for great politicians. Nor does the lack of tertiary education make for poor political leaders. Barbados, as well as the wider world, has benefited from the great deeds of simple folk whose grasp of the human condition, the society and economy in which they existed, was not garnered as a result of letters behind their names.

Human history is replete with acts and utterances emanating from some political literati that have made even simple men shudder. Needless to say, the literati’s status among their peers often guarantees willing followers and believers, much more pliant than even those spelled by that famed minstrel of Hamelin.

Florida Republican representative Ted Yoho once stated at a public gathering that an Affordable Care Act tax on tanning salons discriminated against white people.  The University of Florida graduate based his ‘enlightened’ opinion on an Indian gentleman confiding in him that he had never used a tanning booth.

Then there was Pat Robertson, a religious leader and media mogul with great political influence, and who attended Washington and Lee University, as well as Yale Law School. To vociferous applause at a 1992 Republican National Convention, he suggested that feminism encouraged women to leave their husbands, become lesbians, kill their children, practise witchcraft and destroy the capitalist ideology.

Yes, some politicians and their acolytes do not always shine brightest among us.

We had an exercise in the Lower House of Parliament yesterday that sought to extend the retirement age of two public officials from 62 to 67 in keeping with the rest of the public service. Politicians often stress that every constituent matters and that each Barbadian is important. So, that the debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016 pertained only to the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Auditor General did not in any way reduce its major importance.

It should have been a routine exercise, but instead Barbadians were subjected to ‘Yohonian’ and ‘Robertsonian’ logic of a lamentable kind, by a few of the political literati in the Lower Chamber.

We would grudgingly forgive the Barbados Labour Party’s political neophytes who toed the party line and like those children of 13th century Lower Saxony, followed the bewitching sound of the Pied Piper’s flute. They have only been exposed to the music of the Lower House since 2013.

But what about those who formed part of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s Cabinet between 1994 and 2008 and are still members of Parliament?

It was the then Owen Arthur Government, of which current Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and former Attorney General Dale Marshall were major personalities, that enacted the legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 67. Miss Mottley, Mr Marshall, and MPs Gline Clarke, Ronald Toppin, Kerrie Symmonds, George Payne and Cynthia Forde were members of an administration that championed the original edict.

For Mr Marshall and Miss Mottley to now rant conveniently in the debate on much of their own original legislative work, and abstain from voting on the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016, with the puerile excuse that there are other pressing matters that involve greater numbers of people, is to make nonsense of the tenet that every individual Barbadian matters.

Mr Marshall made a case for his constituents with a passion that almost led one to believe they suddenly materialized at 3,000 without numerical origin. Miss Mottley scanned a series of matters extraneous to the crux of the debate and she failed to grasp the opportunity to bring resolution to an anomaly left behind by her own Government. This was a chance to rise above petty party politics but the music of her flute led the children astray and the assembly’s lacquer thinned somewhat.

To his credit former Prime Minister Owen Arthur seized the moment to put the attempted amendment in proper context, as well as to shine a bright light on the folly of the political literati who frustrated the attempt at garnering the two-thirds majority vote needed for the constitutional amendment.

“It is not often that Parliament meets to amend the Constitution of the country. The Constitution of the country is the supreme law of the land and any amendment to the Constitution has to be entered into seriously, judiciously and be judged on its merit because we are changing the supreme law of the land.

“Judging the amendment on its merit we cannot seek to intrude on that discussion, matters that we may think would give us some political support or be politically interesting but has no bearing on the matter that is before Parliament of the land. This is a simple amendment to make sure that two posts recognized by the Constitution as being worthy to be in the Constitution,” he said.

Yesterday was not our Parliament’s finest hour.

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