The Barbados Parliament, the third oldest in the Commonwealth, has been at the centre of our democracy, reflecting both the legacy of the British Westminster system and our unique culture for well over three centuries.
It was set up by our founding fathers to scrutinize and challenge the work of Government, make and change laws, debate the important issues of the day and, of course, approve Government spending— all significant functions for a 51-year-old nation like ours.
Equally noteworthy are the men and women who are elected to take up the 30 seats in the Lower House for a period of five years, and the 21 Senators who sit in the Upper House.
We have come to expect these servants of the people to be exemplary orators whose main aim should be to improve the lives of citizens.
Unfortunately, these days, Parliament appears to be losing its lustre with a declining number of citizens showing interest in the proceedings whenever they are held.
Last week, the House was convened for the week-long debate on the Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue for 2018/2019. And legislators would do well to take note of the public’s reaction to how this vital matter of business was handled.
It is true that the Estimates, which presents the Government’s proposed revenues and spending, is critical information the public should know and analyze.
We need to be aware of how our tax dollars are being spent on health, education, infrastructure, debt payment and so on.
Unfortunately, the debate gets in the way and Barbadians generally appear to be growing increasingly weary of some of the antics of our politicians.
On social media users questioned why MPs were allowed to make multiple contributions on the same issue, prolonging the debate for a week.
Some wanted to know why the Estimates were presented with the life of the current Parliament about to expire
Others queried why there was such paltry attendance, the constant blame game, with few solutions, the charges and countercharges, the insults and the blatant politicking by some who lowered the honoured chamber to the level of a political platform, boldly outlining their party’s policies for the upcoming general election.
Several wondered what the country achieved at the end of the debate and whether it was necessary to keep wasting time and money on a parliamentary debate.
Moreover, some suggested they had stopped paying attention to happenings in Parliament a long time ago, describing it as a waste of time.
Legislators have no one to blame but themselves for the growing cynicism about this fundamental institution.
Parliamentary discourse in recent times has fallen woefully short.
We wistfully remember the days when Barbadians locked into high standard parliamentary sessions to soak in the wisdom, the vocabulary and enjoy the sharp wit of the likes of former Prime Ministers Errol Walton Barrow and Tom Adams, Bernard Harold St John, Owen Arthur, Sir Richard Haynes, Sir Henry Forde, Dame Billie Miller and more.
These days, when the House sits and meets, there is more noise than debate, more shouting than listening, and more statements than engagement, debate or solutions.
Often the discussion is partisan. From the outset party lines are clearly drawn. Laws are often passed in a rush with little scrutiny.
The country deserves better.
With Barbados facing serious challenges as it looks towards the next 50 years of its Independence, there is need for urgent change and the next round of legislators would do well to seriously consider reform.
Communication in politics is paramount. Therefore, each member must think carefully about the message they want to send, and raise the bar. Preparation, therefore, is key. We don’t want mere ‘good talkers’ but MPs who can credibly present the facts and argue the pros and cons of an initiative to choose the best possible option for the county.
It is time for MPs to recommit to being true representatives of the people. And rather than Barbadians growing more cynical about Parliament, we need to hold MPs to account.