There is no doubt that in the grand scheme of things that the make-up our system of governance, the presentation and debate of the annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure are extremely important.
It is true that in many instances the way this important series of events has been treated by those responsible has served to cheapen it, but the budgeting exercise remains of national significance.
And the debate now on in the House of Assembly reinforces this importance, as well as underlines the need for parliamentary reform, particularly in the current strained financial circumstances in which the country finds itself.
The contribution of two key players — on at least one aspect of it — reinforces, as far as we are concerned, the need for a national review of how our Parliament functions. We have already gone on record to make it clear that we do not believe the current two-chamber system of a House of Assembly and Senate is the most effective.
Certainly some of the nation’s best brains are located in the Senate, but by virtue of its structure, our Parliament does not utilise them to the optimum.
This week, however, in their opening contributions Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Opposition Leader Mia Mottley emphasised the need for a bi-partisan approach to ensuring that Barbados is afforded the best route out of the current financial challenge. Sinckler invited, with reservation, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party to join planned discussion on the most effective avenues to bring about economic improvement; and Mottley agreed that a bi-partisan approach was necessary, but expressed concerns about whether in the current environment anything worthwhile could or would emerge.
Surely there is not a right-thinking Barbadian around who would not agree that the country’s interest would be best served by combining the capacity of both sides of the House of Assembly. Unfortunately, the Opposition has a government to capture and the ruling party an administration to maintain.
In the normal scheme of things it would not appear to be in an Opposition party’s best interest to offer its best ideas in a manner that would prolong the stay in office of the Government. But these are tough times and business as usual will not serve us well. As a matter of fact, we are already feeling the ill effects of business as usual.
It would seem sensible, therefore, if there were changes made to the system of governance where, as part of the normal course of things both sides were required to cooperate — in an environment where failure to do so would be obvious to voters, who could then use their power at the appropriate time to express their pleasure or disgust.
We ought at this stage of our development to give serious consideration to the establishment of bi-partisan standing committees of Parliament in a regime that works. We don’t need committees that mirror those of the United States Congress, but certainly committees that reflect the key pillars of our economy and society would be of benefit.
We also believe that collapsing the resources of our Senate into an expanded House that includes non-elected members would provide the numbers and expertise to properly constitute such committees. When so much of our future depends on feeding ourselves, for example, what could be wrong with a joint parliamentary committee on agriculture; or entrepreneurship; or regional trade?
What would be wrong with a regime that allowed for the establishment of a specific committee with a specified shelf life to deal with an identified social issues or economic thrust — like a joint committee on law and order; or tourism regeneration?
We can sit can and thump our chests at the fact that what we have had has served us well for centuries, and ignore the equally evident fact that we are being left behind by the region and the world because we appear afraid or uncomfortable with change.
In a sentence, we can choose to sink or swim!