I don’t know what this vote buying thing is all about . . . . I hear this kind of sanctimonious foolishness coming from people who, frankly, are trying to put a stain on certain communities . . . .
–– Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, as reported in the Daily Nation of February 26.
. . . It is a wicked and nasty thing when individuals who hold these lofty positions want to give the impression, not just to people in this county but to those outside, that our political system is corrupt and that votes are sold and bought in this country.
–– Minister of Industry Donville Inniss, as reported in the Daily Nation of February 23.
. . . The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
–– William Shakespeare in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, Line 225.
Virtually everyone associated with the last two general elections in Barbados knows that the practice of “vote buying” –– in the form of political operatives putting $100 bills into the hands of persons on the electoral roll in exchange for a promise to vote for a particular election candidate –– exists in Barbados.
Go to virtually any urban working class community and ask the youth about “vote buying”, and many of them will readily admit to having accepted “papers” (also know as $100 bills) for their votes. Indeed, with a little questioning and investigation, one can actually identify the young “leaders” on the block who –– in cahoots with the political bagmen –– have converted themselves into controllers who deliver a bloc of young voters for the right price.
When our newly formed political party –– the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) –– contested the 2008 general election, our candidates were often approached by young, black, working class voters who expected that, in keeping with practices established, we would be prepared to offer them money in exchange for their votes. Needless to say, we had to disabuse their minds of this sickening notion, and explain to them that we had got involved in politics to uplift the nation, rather than to contribute to its further corruption and degradation.
Thus, the officers of the PEP were dealing with this issue “vote buying” from as far back as 2008! Many Barbadians will recall that we spoke out publicly about this phenomenon of “vote buying” immediately after the 2008 general election; but tragically, in the subsequent 2013 general elections, we noted that the two traditional parties had sunk to new levels of depravity in relation to vote buying, thereby leading us to speak out even more trenchantly.
And so, when –– two weeks ago –– three “prominent” Barbadian citizens in the form of Andrew Bynoe, Andy Armstrong and Patrick Frost penned a letter in which they denounced this decadent practice of “vote buying” and called for stiff criminal sanctions to be imposed, one was entitled to expect strong and principled support for this initiative.
But, as we can see from the published comments of ministers Chris Sinckler and Donville Inniss, the reaction of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has been just the opposite of what was expected. Instead of receiving commendation and support, Messers Bynoe, Armstrong and Frost have been arrogantly dismissed, and have been accused of purveying sentiments that are “wicked”, “nasty”, “sanctimonious” and “foolish”!
Indeed, Mr Sinckler even went so far as to declare that he didn’t “know what this vote buying thing is all about”. Just imagine that! Unlike tens of thousands of ordinary Barbadians who know what vote buying is about and the danger that it poses to our society, our supposedly intelligent and well informed Minister of Finance knows nothing about this phenomenon.
If I could be permitted to borrow the words of William Shakespeare I would simply say that the DLP protests too much –– far too much!
I have said it before, and I will say it again: the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) were established as institutions for the upliftment of the Barbadian people, but have so degenerated over the years that they have now become instruments that often degrade and devalue our people. And nowhere is this degradation more evident than in the vile practice of buying votes.
The words of Messers Sinckler and Inniss might have the effect of misleading some middle class Barbadians into doubting the reality of vote buying, but they will have no such effect on the masses of black working class Barbadians. And they will have no such effect, precisely because it is the youth of the black working class who are especially targeted by the purveyors of the evil practice of vote buying.
Like vile parasites or vultures, political operatives of the traditional political parties move through the urban working class communities infecting the psyche of our youth and establishing in their minds the image of the politician/Member of Parliament/minister of Government as nothing more than a political hustler.
Make no mistake about it, the working class youth of Barbados, of a certain age, are losing, or have lost, all respect for the public life of this country and the institutions of governance. And a large part of the reason for that loss of respect is the widespread practice of vote buying.
To the credit of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and her team of MPs, they have not similarly insulted the intelligence of the people of Barbados by seeking to deny the undeniable. Ms Mottley must, however, go further than this, and give a serious undertaking to the Barbadian people that, under her watch, the BLP will abjure the practice of vote buying.
I will offer no such similar advice to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), for its spokesmen seem unwilling
to even admit the problem, and intent on attacking people who dare to raise the issue. And if that is the case, then
we must conclude that they are beyond redemption.
Finally, I wish it to be known that my associates and I totally support the Bynoe/Armstrong/Frost initiative. Indeed, we commend and congratulate them for taking such a courageous, responsible and patriotic stance, and pledge that we will do all that we possibly can to ensure that serious and comprehensive anti-vote buying regulations are enacted and enforced in Barbados.
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)