In keeping with the Barbados Independence Order Act (1966), more commonly referred to as the Constitution of Barbados, elections must be held here at least 21 days after the date of the poll is officially announced.
Given that provision, it is literally impossible now for us to have a general election before our Parliament automatically dissolves on March 6, 2018.
However, as we move closer to the dissolution of Parliament by virtue of having served a full five-year term, there is some information which the wider reading public should know.
The Constitution of Barbados is the Act which sets out the system of governmental functioning that replaced that of Britain upon the island’s attainment of independence in 1966. It is commonly known that The Constitution sets out the provisions under which citizenship of Barbados is granted as well as the basic enshrined constitutional rights of its citizens.
What is perhaps less familiar are the basic tenets of our democratic governmental system and the conditionalities which are required for these to be considered rightly established. There are three enshrined arms of governance in Barbados. These are the executive, which is more commonly known as the Cabinet, the legislature, more commonly known as the Parliament and the judiciary or the court system.
What happens on March 6, 2018 is that the legislature of Barbados will automatically dissolve by virtue of 61 (3) of the Constitution. Never before has the Parliament of Barbados dissolved automatically at the end of a five-year term of power for an administration without an election date being set.
The closest that we came to this was in 1994. Parliament was dissolved after a successful vote of no confidence in June. The three-month grace period which the Constitution allows at 62 (1) was invoked and the subsequent election was called on September 6, 1994, one to the day it was constitutionally due. The fundamental and significant difference about that three-month period in 1994 and the current one we are about to enter is that the Sandiford Government of 1994 had at least six months left in its term.
However, the current Government has passed the date of election, which was February 21, 2018 and is about to surpass the five-year anniversary of the convening of Parliament on March 6, 2013. That means that when Parliament dissolves, any three-month period subsequent to March 6, while still within the Constitutional grace period, takes us past our five-year mark for calling elections. I believe that is a dangerous and unnecessary place to take our democracy even if it is within the constitutional provision.
Another constitutional provision which caught my interest was 61 (5). The provision, as far as I understand it offers a safety mechanism by which if a dissolution of parliament occurs and an emergency ensues that the Governor General of Barbados, acting on advice of the Prime Minister of Barbados, has the power to reconstitute the last configuration of the Parliament of Barbados. However, provision 62 (1) demands that after the dissolution of Parliament that the Governor General must issue writs for the general election to be called within 90 days. Once that provision has been triggered, Parliament cannot be reconstituted.
This means that with foreign reserves at a critically low point in this country we are about to enter a period where our Government will not be fully constituted with no option to return to full composition in the case of an emergency. I say that the Government will not be fully constituted because according to the Constitution we need at minimum a legislature, a judiciary and an executive.
In order to be deemed constituted, the executive requires at 64 (1) a Prime Minister and at least five other ministers. 72 (1) demands that at least one of those ministers must be an attorney general. These ministers remain in place even after a dissolution but once the automatic dissolution is triggered, we shall have an executive but no legislature for executive power to be translated into law. That is to say that any decisions taken in that period of time will either be done through the power of the executive or by the power of individual ministers but without the sanction of legislative law.
Of further interest in the context of this unchartered period is provision 60 (2). It stipulates that there should not be more than a six-month break between the last convened session of Parliament and the next. It means that if the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure are approved before the dissolution on March 6 and the Democratic Labour Party is returned to power, they have a six-month period from March 6 until September 2018 before they are required to return to Parliament.
Perhaps the only silver lining about this current administration trying to nurse every hour out of the power given to them by the electorate of Barbados is that they have laid our issues bare. They have underlined the importance of constitutional reform, fixed terms and term limits.
We would prove ourselves the most unsophisticated electorate if we moved too far into any new term of office without pressing for address to the seeming loopholes which have been used to manipulate the five-year limit on our democracy.