They may be sidelined by age, yet they have a healthy interest in the affairs of state and believe that Barbados should move with haste to establish a republican form of Government.
This general view was expressed today by members of the unofficial “Barbados Senior Parliament” when they met at the Parkinson Resource Centre, Pinelands, St Michael to discuss republicanism for Barbados.
Leading off the debate was 92-year-old Emmerson Bellamy who told fellow “parliamentarians” that he knew what poverty was all about having lived through the historic 1937 riots.
Speaking in a clear and steady voice, the senior citizen recalled that in pre-1937 days, lots of unemployed Barbadians would assemble in what is now called Heroes Square, the City to share a cigarette.
“Barbadians were so poor they could not buy a package of cigarettes for themselves. They would buy a cigarette and pass it around in the crowd. When it reached to the butt the crowd would put a pin in it and continue to pass it around in the crowd,” Bellamy said in his contribution to the discussion.
While expressing his love for Barbados, he maintained that his experiences of the 1937 riots brought home to him the destruction that can befall a nation when the majority of citizens are marginalized.
“There was widespread poverty in Barbados at that time. I have no pride in relating this. I was apprenticed at a senior shipwright whose workshop was in Jordan’s Lane, the City. I saw poor people being shot dead. I recall this to show where we came from. I stand here not to pull down, but to uplift. If there is no change, we will perish. We have had independence which is very good, but it has left some things undone,” he added.
Bellamy, a Justice of Peace, also complained that some lawyers engaged in malpractice, thereby depriving a number Barbadians of the opportunity to own property.
He talked about a visit to the chambers of one attorney-at -law who deals with conveyances and who kept “stacks of files that reach as high as six or seven feet” belong to clients, some of whom have since died, while others did not have the funds to complete the legal process.
Meantime, in throwing his support behind the adoption of a republican form of government, Roland Waithe recalled that Barbadians had been discussing this issue from as far back as 1979 with the Mencea Cox Commission, followed by the Constitution Review Commission of October 1996 which was chaired by Sir Henry Forde.
Waithe also argued that there was no need for a referendum on the issue.
“The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs does not hold a referendum before he imposes taxes on us. I see no reason for the holding of a referendum before we move to a republican form of government.
“We must grab the bull by the horns otherwise the debate will drag on. We had a similar experience prior to independence. I am all for a republican form of government. I would like to see it sooner rather than late,” he stressed.
Alex Daniel, Esther Blue and entertainer Desmond Weekes also threw their support behind republicanism, but Wingrove Thomas expressed some reservations over the cost of making the switch at this time.
In his presentation, Weekes suggested an education campaign to allay the fears of those who worry about the impact of such a change.
“Education is important before we make the step. Some people fear the rise of a dictatorship and a president for life. We have to start educating the people at the level of the schools. We also have to reach out to the boys on the block,” he said.