Two years after serious accusations were made about vote buying in the last general election, two prominent businessmen, Andy Armstrong and Andrew Bynoe, have expressed surprise that no full investigation has taken place and that no one has been brought to justice.
The two business leaders are campaigning for action to address the problem.
Armstrong, a former president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), told Barbados TODAY that while the issue of vote buying remained a concern for many individuals, a lot of them were afraid to speak out.
“It is surprising that it hasn’t yet been addressed at the level that it can make a difference in the future. That level being within Parliament,” said Bynoe. “Certainly also within the parties themselves because this has to come up on the agenda in particular having another election [constitutionally due] within about another two-and-a-half years.”
“We must not and cannot go into an election again in this country where significant sums of money are pedaled on the street for votes. It is destroying the substance of democracy and it is a very bad precedence that needs to be stopped,” the supermarket operator said.
After the February 2013 election, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart complained about the illegal practice and indicated he was committed to stamping it out. He also acknowledged that the role of money in election campaigns had increased, with many voters now accustomed to receiving a variety of goods and services as part of the election exercise.
Armstrong said the lack of action on the issue was also “a big concern for him”, especially with the island approaching another general election in about two and a half years.
“The [challenge] I think is that it is very difficult to prosecute and convict someone under (the existing) law. We have been told that the authorities haven’t even tried to prosecute anyone because they are aware of how difficult it would be to get a conviction,” the business executive said.
“So while we have a good law, if you cannot prosecute under it, then we could as well not have the law,” he added, saying there were individuals willing to assist in “crafting something that works better”.
Stressing that there were “concerned citizens and business operators” who were eager to see the matter fully investigated, Armstrong said vote buying was a concern because a lot of people believed they should not vote unless they were paid to do so.
“The only way this is going to work is if there is a grassroots movement, if the majority of the population sees this as a problem,” he said.
Armstrong said while there were some people who apparently believed that the situation was “too far-gone and there was no way we will ever pull it back”, he did not share that view.
“I think there are enough people who are concerned and I think if we can get the education out there and make people understand that their vote can count for more than a plate of food and also that if the authorities did decide to crack down, you could go to jail for it,” said Armstrong.
Though he could not say what his next step would be to encourage the authorities to address the matter, Armstrong said he would be seeking to raise awareness. “Some of the politicians need be aware that not only could they go to jail for it but they could also lose their seat in Parliament (if they won one),” he added.
Bynoe said while he did not personally witness anyone buying votes during the last election, he had “enough knowledge” that he could say “it has taken place”.