. . . If people do not agree today, that in a democratic Assembly there should be no qualifications for membership and that there should be no property qualifications for the right to vote, they will never agree and it is no use arguing with them. I do not propose to argue today what is a very profitable occupation among adolescents; every schoolboy or [school]girl debating society will argue that if you are democratic you believe in adult suffrage.
You either agree that every member of the community should have the right to a seat in this House or you do not; if you have given any thought to the subject and cannot be persuaded today, then you will not be persuaded . . . .
–– Grantley Herbert Adams speaking on the Representation Of The People Bill on Tuesday, June 6, 1950, in the Barbados House of Assembly debate.
That Representation Of The People Bill became law and was proclaimed an Act of Parliament on February 16, 1951. We have come, therefore, to the golden anniversary
of that most critical piece of legislation in this nation’s history –– it’s 50 years after the proclamation.
People have been using all sorts of historical data in favour of, or against, Barbados becoming a republic. One call-in voice persisted in the argument that we were de facto a republic since The Charter Of Barbados (Oistins) of 1652.
Clause 19 of that charter, as taken from Schomburgk’s History Of Barbados, Pages 280 to 283, would, I suggest, give the lie to such an assertion: “19. That the Government of this island be by a Governor, Council and Assembly, according to the ancient and usual customs here: that the Governor be appointed by the states of England, and from time to time received and obeyed here, the Council be by him chosen, and an Assembly by a free and voluntary election of the freeholders of the island in the several parishes; and the usual custom of the choice of the Council be represented by Commissioners to the Parliament of England, or to the Council of State established by authority of Parliament, with the desires of the inhabitants for the confirmation thereof for the future . . . .”
The Governor, appointed by the states of England (the Crown), was to be obeyed here in Barbados. He selected the Council or upper chamber of our local Parliament. Our Assembly was to be “elected” by freeholders (of property) –– ruling out all black people and most of mixed race. The Council made representation to the English Parliament or to a Council of State, through a number of Commissioners who came from among their number. Some republican status!
But this status was to remain largely intact until the most fundamental change took place, and that was universal adult suffrage. There has been no other piece of such transforming legislation in this country than that Representation Of The People Act proclaimed on February 16, 1951.
Fear of the unknown must have gripped those who opposed adult suffrage. After all, they had enjoyed a privileged electoral status for more than 300 years. On the other hand, the Barbados Labour Party had included that proposal in their manifestos since 1940. Therefore it was not unreasonable to expect that once they had the majority in the House of Assembly
they would seek to get such an act passed that provided for universal adult suffrage.
Our next significant step will be the severing of all “de jure” links with, to use the expression of the charter quoted above, “the states of England”.
Noting that systems of “economic espionage” are already in place, with globalization it will be impossible for any country to completely disentangle itself from another. In fact, some countries will continue to have a tremendous advantage over others, especially our small states.
Evidence of this surfaced in the general media last year, but had been reported in the Trade Union World of July-August, 1998. This magazine is published by the International Confederation of Free trade Unions (ICFTU). In the article Privacy: The Company, A Different World, on Page 8 it is noted that collusion between governments and business has become more glaring with the unmasking of the Echelon Network . . . .
“It is a global surveillance system able to listen to and record most land-based communications (telephone, fax, email).
“Created by the American secret services with the help of counterparts in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand during the Cold War to spy
on the communist countries, this network has been transformed into a fearsome economic weapon. Echelon has six sensors installed on land that intercept the millions of messages sent each minute around the world and relayed by telecommunications satellites . . . .”
Although very useful in fighting terrorism, drugs and arms proliferation, each participating country has its own keywords according to its “centres of interests”. The American secret service has been known to use the information to help their companies snatch commercial contracts from their European and Japanese rivals, according to the article.
What does this tell you about the OECD? They know full well that most of the money laundering goes on in the developed world. They know full well that banks in those countries make huge profits from that kind of transaction. Whether we become a republic or not, they will still know what is going on.
But what about elections and the presidency of the republic, you ask? People are rushing to judgement because of the deadlock between President Robinson and Prime Minister Panday in Trinidad and Tobago. It does not matter what legislative safeguards one puts in place, if individuals are determined to step outside the bounds of native intelligence and common sense, no law can deter them.
Others are advocating proportional representation as a (non) system to replace our current “first past the post” electoral method. The best example of that elective chaos is found in Italy where the number of changes of administrations almost equals the number of years since World War II.
Do we want governments by permutation when any number can win? I humbly suggest that we don’t.
I am sure that the framers of the legislation that gave us adult suffrage, which permits every adult to vote, never intended that we move from a rational to a random form of elections.
Let us look forward to celebrating, in perpetuity, a day of tremendous significance, which we now take for granted but will not, hopefully, do so in the future because we will also be celebrating February 16 as Republic Day?
The bulk of the foregoing was written as a letter to the Editor on February 7, 2001. Wow! The then Prime Minister was, I understand, given all the information as to how we should proceed to become a republic based on the research by the then Clerk of Parliament. And what did he do? You know the answer to that.
Also note that the Echelon Network –– mentioned above –– was vastly expanded and improved as revelations from Edward Snowden made clear. We continue to be under absolute surveillance, republic or not; but things will change soon.
(Michael Rudder, a former broadcaster, is a regular letter writer and social commentator.)