Going by the litany of complaints frequently heard against politicians in general, including some Members of Parliament (MPs), it is reasonable to say that dissatisfaction among Barbadians with the kind of parliamentary representation they are currently getting appears to be fairly widespread and growing.
Instead of taking the criticism in stride, zeroing in on the underlying reasons to understand the true nature of the problem, and resolving to make a genuine effort to improve their performance, some politicians contemptuously respond by dismissing the criticism as the nonsensical ramblings of prophets of doom and gloom.
Such hostile reactions amount to running away from the issues. They certainly do nothing to address the fact that many Barbadians have lost confidence in politicians and increasingly see them altogether as a bunch of users known for holier-than-thou posturing. Politicians can be quite profuse and brutal in giving criticism, but become incredibly touchy when they find themselves at the receiving end.
Constituents generally accuse politicians of saying one thing to win their favour to get elected. However, almost as soon as they are elected, they start to take the people for granted and often do the exact opposite of what they promised. Remember the pre-2013 general election promises by this Government that university education would remain free and there would be no job losses?
With no effective system of checks and balances to ensure MPs honour their promises to constituents, they pretty much do as they please until the next election comes along in another five years. What particularly peeves many Barbadians is that MPs they elect, especially if they also happen to be ministers of the Crown, are receiving in some instances what are the best salaries and benefits they would have received in their entire working lives.
What is even more annoying for critically thinking constituents is that an MP’s performance, in terms of delivering meaningful solutions to pressing problems at the constituency and sometimes national levels, often pales in comparison with the generous remuneration being received for their efforts. I want, therefore, to place an issue on the table for public discussion within the context of a crying need for extensive political reform in Barbados.
How about linking an MP’s pay in future to his or her performance? Such an approach would definitely be an innovative feature of a new governance model. A rationale already exists, and it has been articulated by none other than key politicians themselves, along with other senior public sector policymakers. Within the context of restructuring the Barbados economy to improve efficiency and competitiveness, public sector decision-makers have been arguing a case for workers to start receiving pay increases tied to productivity gains.
It is my considered view that the best place to begin is with the MPs themselves, never mind we have been told that they belong to a special and unique class. That statement conjured up an Orwellian image of life on Animal Farm where, in the context of an unfolding revolution, all animals were decreed to be equal, but those who happened to be in positions
of leadership and power deemed they were more equal than the others.
At this critical juncture of our history where sacrifice is required, our politicians should lead by example on the issue of linking their pay increases to performance. Such a gracious decision would definitely go a long way towards helping to rebuild some of the trust and respect which Barbadians traditionally had for their politicians but lost to some extent
because of certain self-serving happenings in recent years.
Nothing would be more pleasing, over the next two years in the run-up to the next general election, than to witness the emergence of a powerful, influential broad-based citizens group. Its role, as I see it, would be to engage in intense advocacy and lobbying to achieve some fundamental changes which are needed in Barbados in the context of sweeping reforms to our politics and governance, to ensure real power returns to the people and that satisfactorily meeting their needs again becomes the foremost priority of the political system.
Citizens For Change, to give a randomly chosen name to the group, would serve as an interface between ordinary Barbadians and the political establishment. Such engagement would be based on an agenda fully discussed and adopted in a truly democratic fashion. The group would establish contact with the two major political parties and any other that emerges with the aim of getting them to sign on to a change agenda for implementation regardless of which forms the Government. This legally binding agreement would constitute a genuine contract of faith that could form the basis of litigation if any party chose to renege on binding commitments it had given.
Who would monitor and evaluate the performance of individual MPs at the constituency level? A broad-based group of constituency leaders chosen freely and democratically by residents, so that they are totally independent of the MP’s constituency branch which is an arm of his or her political party.
The assessment would require every MP to come up with a five-year development plan for the constituency, with priorities to be grouped and pursued on a yearly basis with the aim of delivering real change that benefits the people.
Then, once a year, at what can be compared with a company’s annual general meeting, the MP would have to deliver A State Of The Constituency Report to constituents detailing the results of what he or she had promised and what he or she proposed to pursue over the coming year. Once the constituency monitoring group was happy with the MP’s performance, the rating would be a key component in determining any future raise of pay. If the group was unhappy, then the MP too woul know he or she had reason to be disappointed.
This approach would require a new kind of parliamentarian whose vision for the development of the constituency went beyond fixing potholes, installing street lights, giving away school clothes, and writing recommendations for employment. It would require an MP who was innovative, capable of thinking outside the box and willing to work as a development champion to attract investment, whether involving constituents themselves or persons from outside.
In the interest of development, constituents also need to rethink the criteria on which they choose parliamentary representatives. Is being popular because someone plays cricket or football a worthwhile criterion? What has he or she accomplished that suggests they are capable of fixing problems, which is what constituency representation is about? Does their academic training provide them with a good grasp of modern economics or public policy development?
Poor outcomes in terms of constituency representation will happen when persons are elected who are not really up to the task, especially in the complex environment of today. To be effective today, every prospective MP must be developmental in his or her approach and have a clear vision of where he or she wishes to take the constituency, developmentally speaking.
The next general election, constitutionally, is two years away. The almost unbridled power of the political class can only be contained if the ordinary citizen understands his or her power over the political class as its employer, collectively demand accountability from MPs and subject their performance to regular evaluation. If this can be achieved, there is definitely hope for a better politics to emerge.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.