There was a time, not so long ago, when our Eastern Caribbean neighbours instinctively looked to Barbados for leadership on many issues. We were seen as the regional pacesetter, a developmental model worthy of emulation.
Within the so-called “Little Eight”, as the islands of the Eastern Caribbean were called following the break-up of the West Indies Federation, it was Barbados which led the way in seeking Independence from Britain, paving the way for the rest to follow.
There were some who had hoped that Barbados would have spearheaded a fresh attempt at federation with its island neighbours to rekindle the dream of a united Caribbean, instead of proceeding on its own to Independence.
However, by believing it could make it and having confidence in the future under a succession of inspiring leaders beginning with Errol Barrow, Barbados made such a success of Independence, that our neighbours too believed they could do it and soon made the move to Independence, one by one.
Barbados also led the way in education, health care, infrastructure development, public broadcasting especially television, and entertainment, among other areas. In various ways, our neighbours sought to replicate the Barbados model with modifications to suit their circumstances.
Sadly, Barbados today is no longer viewed as demonstrating that kind of leadership. Indeed, many Barbadians, as they travel around the region, are often asked what is going on in Barbados? Why is Bim no longer punching like before?
To give an example to demonstrate why we are no longer seen as the regional pacesetter, Grenada this week is holding an historic referendum on constitutional reform. Citizens are being asked to approve changes that will modernize some aspects of the country’s governance arrangements.
In years gone by, it would have been expected that Barbados would take the lead on this important constitutional issue. Not that governance reform has not been the subject of much public discussion, especially in recent years, but somehow there seems to be a current lack of interest or will at the political level to make it happen.
In the referendum this Thursday following months of public debate, Grenadians will be asked to say ‘yes’ on seven issues, including limiting prime ministers to serving two consecutive terms in office, establishing a fixed date for general elections, and introducing a code of conduct for persons holding public office.
Other proposals call for recognizing the Caribbean Court of Justice as Grenada’s highest court, appointing a Leader of the Opposition in the event a general election produces a case of a political party winning all the seats as has happened twice in the last 25 years.
Another proposal involves offering greater protection to the fundamental rights and freedoms of Grenadians. These include protection against discrimination due to disability, ethnicity, religion and social class, freedom of the press, freedom of association related to political parties, requiring government to exercise financial responsibility and gender equality.
We applaud the Government of Grenada for making these bold and progressive steps to enhance democracy, including the decision to make press freedom a fundamental right on its own which currently does not obtain in Barbados and for also committing the government to being financially responsible – that is, not engaging in reckless practices that jeopardize the country.
We take the opportunity yet again to remind the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) of the governance-related commitments it gave to Barbadians in the 2008 general elections that have not yet been honoured. These commitments include a Freedom of Information Act to ensure more government accountability and implementation of a Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Our governance arrangements, as established in our 1966 Independence Constitution, have remained largely unchanged over the past 50 years. During this time, the world has undergone fundamental change and the needs of Barbadians today, in relation to their role in our democracy, have changed. That is why we need to get cracking on governance reform. And the sooner, the better. It is not an issue for further delay.
We are currently observing our 50th anniversary of Independence. Amid the celebration, we need as a nation to set aside some time for serious reflection on how we are governed and what needs to be done to improve on these arrangements. It is interesting that improved governance has not been raised at all by the DLP administration in the context of the 50th anniversary of Independence observation.
Improved governance can no longer be seen merely as an option because it is a real necessity for building a better Barbados in the context of the 21st century. It is time for decisive leadership to be shown on this issue.