There are many Barbadians, we are quite sure, who were expecting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to update the nation on his republic plan
when he addressed the launch of an almost year-long celebration of the island’s 50th Independence anniversary in Independence Square on Wednesday evening. That he did not was obviously a disappointment.
It was early last year, at a meeting of the St George South constituency branch of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), that Mr Stuart announced his intention to change the island’s system of Government from monarchical to republican “in the very near future”. The choice of “in the very near future” to describe the timeline suggested the proposed change was close at hand.
Presenting his case, Mr Stuart told the partisan audience: “We cannot pat ourselves on the shoulder at having gone into Independence; having decolonized our politics; . . . having decolonized our jurisprudence by delinking from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and explain to anybody why we continue to have a monarchical system. Therefore, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow decolonized the politics; Owen Arthur decolonized the jurisprudence and Freundel Stuart is going to complete the process.”
Having established a clear link between the republican plan and decolonization and Independence, the launch of the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations was the perfect occasion for Mr Stuart to speak at length on the issue. Given his silence and the fact that there are just 11 months remaining to the 50th Independence anniversary on November 30, a pertinent question does arise. Is the plan still on, or is it off?
Either way, we take the view that Barbadians have a right to know in a timely fashion. If Mr Stuart believes the time is right for Barbados to sever its last remaining colonial link with the former “Mother Country”, it is important that this major constitutional change should be pursued in full consultation with the people.
Quite a few neighbouring countries, which are also former British colonies, have gone the republican route and are no worse off as a result. The decision, however, should not be left to Government alone.
To say that Errol Barrow took Barbados into Independence in 1966 without directly seeking the approval of the people is irrelevant in the context of today. Times were different back then. Secrecy, rather openness, was a defining characteristic of governance. Besides, Barbadians were not as enlightened and sophisticated as they are today.
Our forebears generally trusted their elected leaders and believed whatever they did was in the country’s best interest. That is not necessarily so today.
Six years ago, when the British self-governing colony of the Cayman Islands pursued sweeping constitutional change, it was pursued in full consultation with the people who gave overwhelming approval in a referendum after the issue was subjected to more than six months of robust public debate. What is stopping Barbados from taking a similar route on the republican question? Transparency and full participation of the people are defining characteristics of modern governance.
Another important question which should be placed on the table is whether the shift to republican status should simply be a cosmetic exercise involving the replacement of the British monarch with a Barbadian president as Head of State, or should it involve other important reforms?
For example, limiting Prime Ministers to serving two terms in office, introducing a fixed date for general elections instead of leaving this decision as the exclusive right of the Prime Minister, or giving constituents the right to recall a parliamentary representative in whom a majority has lost confidence?
Stuart’s announcement almost a year ago was a statement of intention. However, effecting the change requires the support of a two-thirds parliamentary majority which the incumbent DLP does not have. The support of the Opposition, therefore, would be necessary.
If such support is not forthcoming from the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) which has made it clear there are more pressing issues to be addressed, the plan is effectively stalled. Was a formal approach made to the Opposition to seek its support?
Lest we forget, the last BLP administration, under former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, had embarked on a similar republican initiative in the early 2000s. There was even a Republic Song which was adopted. The plan then was shelved and no clarification was ever given.
Has Mr Stuart’s republic plan quietly suffered the same fate? Only he can tell us. Hopefully, he will shed some light on the issue “in the very near future”.