A Government commission launched today to oversee the setting up of community-based People’s Assemblies, is being touted as the first step in putting power back into the hands of the people.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, whose own grandfather was elected the first Mayor of Bridgetown during a short-lived experiment in local Government 60 years ago, today launched the Thorne Commission on Local Governance, to be chaired by prominent attorney-at-law and Government backbencher, Ralph Thorne QC MP.
The assemblies are to give Barbadians the opportunity to participate in national and local governance, Mottley told the launch this morning at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
She maintained that Barbados could only grow if the voices of its people were heard.
Mottley said: “Today I stand as Prime Minister of this country saying to you that the days of all roads leading to the Prime Minister cannot be the model of development that this country must pursue.
“I am prepared to accept that for us to develop that we need to empower our people, we need to include our people, we need to create platforms for participation.
“That does not mean that a Government does not govern, because at the end of the day an executive is called an executive because it is required to execute and it is required to take decisions.
“But taking decisions in a vacuum without consultation, without caring, without sensitivity to our realities is not the model of development that we want to pursue.
“Equally, failing to take decisions and failing to lead, is too far east going west, so that we have to be able to bring balance but we have to be able to do so in a manner that reflects the values that we want in order to allow for the best precepts of the Government.”
The Prime Minister said while she had supported the idea of constituency councils, introduced by the Stuart administration, she claimed it had been spoiled by a selection process that was driven by political partisans, negating its effectiveness.
She said members of the People’s Assemblies are to be elected and not selected.
Chairman Thorne gave an assurance that those serving on the Assemblies would not be selected based on party affiliation, and would be expected to look after the interests of their respective communities.
He declared: “We want to create a structure that is not partisan… that is fundamental to our design. We want Assemblies that are genuinely reflective of the interests of people and not reflective of the interests of parties.
“We have removed our design from anything that reflects constituency because when people hear the word constituency they think party and therefore I can say to you that we began conceptualizing by looking at parishes.”
Twenty assemblies are to be created across the 11 parishes, with St Michael having four assemblies and Christ Church three.
He said the ten other members of the Commission, including deputy chairman David Comissiong were ably qualified.
“Each member of this Commission qualifies by experience and knowledge to lead this work as a collective and know that we will be strong,” Thorne said.
Earlier in her remarks, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde – under whose ministry the commission falls – described the former constituency councils’ governance structure as weak.
Forde said: “The proposal to create the assemblies was premised on the view that the reason for the collective difficulties being experienced by Barbadians was a weak and deficient institutional structure.
“Simply put, it is a transformation of Government that puts power and independence back into the hands of our local communities.”
Beginning next month, the commission is to hold consultations with private sector agencies, non-Governmental organisations, trade unions, secondary and tertiary level schools and institutions and other interest groups. Town Hall meetings are to start in September.
Fifty years ago, three centuries of district Government and eleven years of municipal Government were ended with the abolition of the vestry system and disestablishment of the Anglican Church to which the vestries were linked as the official church of Government. The island was divided into the eleven parish vestries, Northern and Southern Districts and briefly, the municipality of The City of Bridgetown.
Following proposals dating back to 1925, the then Barbados Labour Party Government passed the Local Government Act of 1958, establishing separate administration for The City. The municipality was led by a mayor, six aldermen, and 12 city councillors, four for each of the city’s three wards. The first Mayor of Bridgetown, Ernest Deighton Mottley, was elected in 1959.
But by April 1967, under the second Errol Barrow administration, the Local Government Councils were dissolved and replaced by an Interim Commissioner for Local Government until final abolition in 1969.
Forty years later, the Freundel Stuart administration introduced 30 non-elected constituency councils with the passage of the Constituency Councils Act of 2009.
The councils, which were heavily criticised by the then opposition Labour Party, were each allocated $100,000, which amounted to a mere 0.07 per cent of the central Government’s budget. But the councils had no authority to deliver services or raise revenue.
It was not immediately clear whether the proposed new People’s Assemblies will have a mandate with increased powers. [email protected]