When the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) came to the people of Barbados ten years ago and asked for an opportunity to serve as this island’s Government after 15 years in the political wilderness, it gave several commitments in a policy platform which espoused a theme of change.
The 2008 DLP election manifesto identified a need to “clean up politics in Barbados” and improve the country’s governance to reverse the disenchantment and disconnect which a growing number of Barbadians, especially young people, were feeling in relation to politics.
“Barbados needs good governance now like it never has before,” the manifesto argued.
“At the moment too many Barbadians perceive voting as a waste of time since many parliamentarians have made promises during election campaigns which they have not delivered. They have subsequently made themselves inaccessible and become unresponsive to the needs of their constituents,” the DLP observed then.
The comments seemed to have been primarily directed at the then ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP). However, the manifesto suggested that “the Democratic Labour Party has selected a team of clean, caring, competent and committed politicians who have signed on to a code of conduct that promises good governance”.
The manifesto listed eight characteristics of this good governance – being participatory; consensus-oriented; accountable to the electorate; transparent in all its decision-making; responsive to the needs of voters; effective and efficient; equitable and inclusive; and adhering to the rule of law.
Those commitments were first given under the leadership of David Thompson who passed away in 2010 after serving two years as prime minister. In the 2013 general election, Freundel Stuart, Thompson’s successor as prime minister and party leader, recommitted the DLP to the same policy platform of good governance.
In the party’s 2013 manifesto, Stuart noted: “Good governance is characterized by the principles of participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equity and inclusion, and the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making and the allocation of resources.”
As the DLP prepares to return to the electorate to seek a renewal of its mandate after two terms in office, can we say that it has faithfully delivered on these key promises?
Yes, a new Prevention of Corruption Act was passed under the DLP. However, there has been an unexplained protracted delay in having it proclaimed into law. Facing Opposition pressure on the issue not so long ago, Prime Minister Stuart’s response would have led Barbadians to believe that as far as he was concerned, a 1929 anti-corruption law on the statute books could suffice in this modern era.
We are also still waiting with bated breath for the passage of freedom of information legislation, the introduction of a code of conduct for ministers, to have public officials declare their assets, and to hold regular press briefings following Cabinet meetings, which is a norm in most developed democracies.
Barbadians also are still waiting on the incumbent DLP to publish details of agreements and contracts involving government and its agencies, to provide formal ministerial statements at regular intervals on the progress of ongoing programmes and projects, and to introduce a policy of formal reporting by parliamentarians to constituents on their stewardship and issues affecting their constituencies.
Indeed, many Government decisions have been shrouded in secrecy. For example, the arrangement related to the Cahill waste to energy project which was eventually scrapped amidst howls of public protest and now the controversial sale of the landmark Hilton hotel.
On the eve of a general election we therefore see the need to caution our Government – as well as its political opponents who have been equally generous in terms of making lavish pronouncements from restoring free tertiary education for all to scrapping all Government debt and eliminating all but ten per cent of domestic taxation – that when promises are consistently broken, without reasonable explanation, there is a loss of trust, confidence and an undermining of important relationships that could cost them the very thing they most want – to clutch the reins of power.