Speaking immediately after the 2013 general election, which saw the re-election of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) by a razor-thin parliamentary majority of just two seats, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart drew public attention to and expressed serious concern about the impact of alleged vote buying.
He did not say who was responsible, though the inference was clear, but vowed to take action to stamp out the illegal practice which, from various accounts, has become a feature of Barbados general elections in the last 25 or so years. Said to involve both political parties, the practice, needless to say, is undermining our democracy as it frustrates the genuine free expression of the choice of voters.
Three years have passed, another general election is approaching; but the country has heard nothing more from Prime Minister Stuart or Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who also deplored the practice. Indeed, the deafening silence last year prompted two prominent businessmen –– former Chamber of Commerce president Andy Armstrong and supermarket proprietor Andrew Bynoe –– to take up the issue.
“We must not and cannot go into an election again in this country where significant sums of money are peddled on the street for votes,” remarked Mr Bynoe as he and Mr Armstrong launched a campaign to get action on the issue.
“It is destroying the substance of democracy and it is a very bad precedence that needs to be stopped,” Mr Bynoe added.
We take the opportunity today to again remind Prime Minister Stuart of the public commitment which he gave to the country back in 2013.
The timeliness of this reminder is underscored by the anti-corruption contents of a speech which he delivered to a meeting of the DLP’s St Peter constituency branch on Sunday afternoon.
In that speech, Mr Stuart challenged any person with information about corrupt dealings involving any member of his administration, given the various rumours which have been making the rounds, to bring the matter to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“ . . . Go to him and let him start the prosecution against the offending person and you have my 100 per cent assurance you are going to get all the support you need from me because I believe that if there is dirtiness in public life, that dirtiness has to be cleaned out. Those are the standards of the Democratic Labour Party,” assured Mr Stuart.
The definition of corruption, however, cannot be limited to malfeasance involving elected or other persons holding positions of public trust. Vote buying, without a doubt, is also a form of corruption –– and an insidious form at that –– which opens the door to the possibility of an even bigger problem of corruption, especially for parties after election to Government.
It is an open secret that the money spent by political parties during elections does not come from their own resources. Rather, it is donated by various interests, including business persons, who are hardly ever acting out of charity but more out of self-interest. They are hoping, for the most part, to be in the good books of elected officials, especially if it ever comes to decisions which can affect their vested interests.
Vote buying is admittedly a complex issue. Blame cannot be placed solely at the feet of politicians or their agents. Voters who take the view they are not going to exercise their franchise unless they get something in return are equally as guilty and are deserving of the strongest condemnation as well.
Such persons are obviously unaware of, or have conveniently turned a blind eye to, the fact that in many countries, countless persons have died in historic struggles for the right to vote.
Besides, before the advent of universal adult franchise in 1951, most Barbadians could not vote. Voting, therefore, is a right that should not be taken lightly. When persons sell their vote, they are, in effect, also surrendering their right to good parliamentary representation if the candidates on whose behalf they took money or other inducements happen to be elected.
By so doing, such persons also rid themselves of the moral legitimacy to criticize their representatives if they fail to deliver to their benefit.
What they ought to recognize is that they exchanged their vote for payment and should really remain silent until their next payday comes around in another five years, if they shamefully choose again to sell their votes.
Our democracy, of which the right to vote is the lynchpin, must never be put up for sale. Truly patriotic Barbadians with a knowledge of our history and abiding respect for our forefathers will stoutly resist any such attempt.