Constituency councils became a controversial subject of discussion today as five of the political parties preparing to contest the upcoming general election went at each other in a debate over governance.
The incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) candidate for The City Henderson Williams was forced to defend the DLP’s decision to establish the councils in 2008, after Lynroy Scantlebury of the Barbados Integrity Movement (BIM) had described them as a waste of time.
The two, who were joined by candidates Kirk Humphrey of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Maria Phillips of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and Solutions Barbados leader Grenville Phillips II, were part of a discussion on the Starcom radio network’s Down To Brass Tacks People’s Parliament programme, which looked at the effectiveness of Members of Parliament.
“You said the constituency councils were a waste of time. The persons who got the programmes going and the youth that got the programmes going, the persons who got through it through the David Thompson Football Classic, the lady down the road who got her door fixed . . . all of those things came as a result of it,” Williams retorted.
At the same time, Williams took a shot at Scantlebury, saying the BIM candidate could not guarantee the success of a system which he had proposed to not only motivate residents to capitalize on available opportunities for development in their areas, but would also keep politicians on their toes.
“Within communities, there must be . . . committees that monitor the work of the politician,” Scantlebury had suggested, even as he sought to draw a defining line between his proposed committee and the constituency councils he so heavily criticized.
“The difference is that those councils did not monitor the work of the politician,” he said.
Solutions Barbados had a similar recommendation for ensuring parliamentarians were accountable to the people, with the party leader suggesting the formation of advisory groups with the power to report directly to Cabinet if necessary.
“We plan to have advisory groups for every minister where, if someone has an issue . . . they can come and sit on the advisory group, lobby to have their concerns addressed and then the minister will take that to Cabinet for consideration,” he said, adding that if the minister failed to take up the matter the committee could bypass that minister and go directly to Cabinet.
“What people want is a Government that takes care of their business without getting into unsustainable debt,” he stressed.
However, the BLP’s Humphrey took a different position, insisting that the country’s social policy must be driven by the people, as opposed to politicians.
He complained that there had “certainly been a degradation in community groups” over the last ten years when the DLP governed the country, and that “one of the things that we have to do as a Government is to help people rebuild themselves to come and coordinate themselves around ideas to solve their own problems”.
“What we are suggesting [is that] people will have a say in how they are governed, people will have the right to determine what issues are important to them . . . offering them through the idea of a referendum or referenda, depending on how many we have, to have a say in those larger policy issues, so that everything that is done in Barbados would be people oriented and people driven,” the BLP representative suggested.
Maria Phillips, for her part, complained of a disconnect between the people and the parliamentary representatives, whom she said only returned to their constituencies when an election was approaching to give handouts in an effort to gain votes.
“And that does not work. At the end of the day, how do you empower people? That is the question that has to be asked. The empowerment of the people means that there would be an improvement in your governance,” Phillips said.