So it looks like we may be living under a republican system of government by the time Barbados’
50th anniversary of Independence comes around in November, 2016 –– one and a half years from now!
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made the surprise announcement before a partisan Democratic Labour Party (DLP) audience at a St George South constituency branch meeting in late March. He vowed: “The Right Excellent Errol Barrow decolonized the politics; Owen Arthur decolonized the jurisprudence; and Freundel Stuart is going to complete the process.”
Changing Barbados’ constitutional status from the current monarchial system, headed by Queen Elizabeth II, was not included on the platform by which the DLP was re-elected in the 2013 general election. It certainly was not mentioned in the manifesto that spoke of making Barbados a country which is “socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound and characterized by good governance”.
Furthermore, in the foreword to the manifesto, Stuart told Barbadians: “In any five-year electoral cycle, it is important that a party remains faithful to the vision articulated in its manifesto, even if it is not able
to implement every initiative it contains.”
The question we must ask, therefore, is what could have prompted Stuart to deviate from the defined path.
Coming a week after the latest CADRES poll confirmed a dramatic plunge in Stuart’s personal and the DLP’s approval ratings since the February, 2013 general election, the timing of the “republic” announcement was significant. The poll, showing the DLP heading for a severe thrashing whenever the next general election is called, would have further demoralized an already despairing DLP flock who, generally speaking, are not happy with the direction of the party.
Secondly, Stuart could have been jolted by the poll –– much like the sleeping giant he told us about who was suddenly awakened just before the last general election –– into realizing the sun was setting on what could aptly be described as a generally lacklustre political career. Despite being around since 1994 when he was first elected to the House of Assembly, Barbadians can point to no significant achievement authored by Stuart that had a national impact, and provides the basis for a favourable legacy.
This backdrop plausibly explains his seeming enthusiasm to complete the decolonization process started by Errol Barrow and advanced by Owen Arthur, two highly regarded former Prime Ministers. As it currently stands, Stuart will be unfavourably remembered for presiding over what many Barbadians consider to be the worst Government in our history.
For young people who had to drop out of Cave Hill this year, he surely will be remembered for taking away the precious gift of universal free education which Errol Barrow and Cameron Tudor gave to the people of Barbados.
Against this general backdrop, Stuart’s republic plan announcement seems to have had a three-fold purpose: to divert public attention from the DLP’s dismal ratings by shifting public debate to the republican issue; to shore up flagging morale among disenchanted DLP supporters; and to seize one of few remaining opportunities to create a favourable legacy by seeking to go down in history as the Father of Republicanism.
Stuart, however, made a cardinal error in his first step. By choosing to make the announcement before a partisan DLP audience, instead of using a neutral venue like the House of Assembly or a nationally televised address, he has opened up himself to being accused of making the republican plan a DLP issue, instead of a national one. This perception could have the effect of alienating some Barbadians who, had a non-partisan approach been taken, might have been open to lending support.
Also, by implying that Barbados is already a republic in practice, Stuart may have defeated his case because a logical conclusion can be drawn that the proposed change will be merely cosmetic and symbolic. If this is so, Barbadians surely have valid reason to ask why make this a priority now when, as far as most of us are concerned, the pressing priority for Government should be revitalizing the economy and generally restoring hope about the future.
“A republican form of government stipulates that those who run the people’s affairs should be chosen directly or indirectly by the people themselves. We already do that. We have been doing that continuously since 1951 when we got universal adult suffrage,” Stuart noted. “Under republicanism, the persons who administer your affairs can serve during your pleasure. In other words, they should only be able to stay as long as you want them to stay. That’s what the people of St Philip South said to me in 1999. So Barbados satisfies that requirement as well.”
Giving public backing to the plan, both Speaker of the House of Assembly, Michael Carrington, and CARICOM Ambassador Robert Morris argued the switch could be made without consulting the people via a referendum. As Carrington sees it, Errol Barrow did not use a referendum when he took Barbados into Independence and Stuart does not have to do so to make Barbados a republic.
Both gentlemen miss a fundamental point. When Barbados became Independent in 1966, Government decisions were made by a handful of people within a legally sanctioned and accepted framework of secrecy. The world has since moved away from this model and has embraced the principles of popular participation, openness, and accountability, as central features of modern governance to which the DLP says it is committed. To make Barbados a republic without public consultation would be a contradiction of the DLP’s professed commitment to “good governance”.
I am prepared to give my wholehearted support to the republic plan once it includes a governance model that enhances the power of the people in relation to those whom they elect to serve in public office. It must include, among other things, term limits for Prime Ministers, the power to recall underperforming MPs, freedom of information legislation, transparent public procurement, and more effective checks on the power of Cabinet –– all standard features of 21st century governance.
When the Cayman Islands administration decided to introduce a new constitution with better governance arrangements seven years ago, it could have simply effected the change by passing a law in the Legislative Assembly. Kurt Tibbetts, the then leader of government, said: “No. This is not about us. This is about the people and they have to be involved.” As a result, the issue was debated across the length and breadth of the country before it was put to a referendum where it won overwhelming approval. I served as communication adviser to the cabinet during this process.
The Cayman Islands is a British territory with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Our politicians would be inclined to suggest that this kind of constitutional arrangement is backward compared with what we have. However, if the truth must be told, the Cayman Islands has a more modern and effective governance system than Barbados, which traditionally was viewed as a leader in the Caribbean.
Cayman, to give a few examples, has a Freedom Of Information Act, a fixed date for general elections every four years, a Human Rights Commission, and a constitutional provision allowing citizens to trigger a referendum on any issue of public importance. Why shouldn’t Barbadians have the same or better? Either give us a republic with these governance provisions or give us none at all!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist
and journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)