A study undertaken by noted democracy advocacy group, Freedom House, previously indicated that the world had its highest rate of fully free democracies of 46.1 per cent in 2008. By 2018, this had declined to 44.1 per cent. There is the notion that democracy can best be defined or be apparent when citizens have a right to vote in free and fair elections. But suggestions are that democracies have declined over the years in Europe, Latin and North America where citizens vote in free and fair elections and where the respect for law is supposed to be observed by the governments of the day.
Barbadians have been privy to free and fair elections since their Independence but the actions of the current democratically elected administration are calling into question whether this country is contributing to the global decline in democratic practices. Recent occurrences suggest that the Mia Mottley-led Government has few qualms with respect to ignoring Barbados’ laws. Indeed, some might argue that the 30-0 mandate bestowed upon the Barbados Labour Party in 2018 has emboldened the Government into believing that it can do as it pleases. But the overwhelming vote of confidence given to the current administration was not intended to be the precursor to autocratic rule. This is the reality that Government must appreciate and which its chief legal advisor, Attorney General Dale Marshall, ought to respect. Indeed, if he does not acknowledge that not only is he a servant of the people but one of the country’s principal protectors of its laws, then Prime Minister Mottley should remove him from office with great dispatch. But, he is a part of a wider decision-making Cabinet.
Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn recently did the Royal Barbados Police Force and the country as a whole a significant favour by pointing out to all and sundry that Government had contravened the law of the land by its appointment of a second Deputy Commissioner of Police. Mr Franklyn correctly stated that section 6 of the Police Act, Chapter 167 of the Laws of Barbados spoke specifically to the appointment of one Commissioner of Police and one Deputy Commissioner. “The Force shall consist of a Commissioner, a Deputy Commissioner and such number of Assistant Commissioners, Superintendents, Inspectors, subordinate police officers and constables respectively as does not exceed the number provided by any order made under section 2 of the Civil Establishments Act: but the members of the Force at 16th October 1961, shall continue to be members of the Force and shall be subject to this Act,” Mr Franklyn quoted from the relevant legislation. This was not a political stunt or grandstanding, this was simply a very erudite servant of Barbados pointing out to Government that it had breached the country’s laws. But worse was to follow.
Attorney General Marshall was this week asked to explain and clarify this development. But in a manner that mimics what would perhaps occur in an autocratic state, he refused to address the situation and stated he would not be getting into a tit-for-tat with Mr Franklyn. But this was not about the goodly senator, this was a case where Mr Marshall, in what we hope is still a thriving democracy, was under an obligation to address whether his Government had breached the law and if it had, what would be done about it. But the Attorney General took the low road and failed to deal with the query. To the best of our knowledge, there has been no debate or amendment in Parliament to section 6 of the Police Act, Chapter 167. The high road ought to have been taken where Government could have admitted its error while indicating its intention to make the necessary legislative adjustments to facilitate two appointed deputy commissioners for the first time in the 185-year history of the Royal Barbados Police Force.
The irony of this situation is that while Mr Marshall did not want to get into a “tit-for-tat” with Senator Franklyn, he had no reservations recently getting into a “tit-for-tat” with Magistrate Graveney Bannister – a public officer – with respect to statements of legal interpretation made in court by Mr Bannister, and to which he was entitled. If the Attorney General had an issue with Magistrate Bannister’s sentiments he should have taken them up with the Chief Justice as proper protocol dictates. Instead, Mr Marshall chose to get in a public “tit-for-tat” with a judicial officer but now wants to dodge the question of Government’s questionable actions. We would hope that Mr Marshall addresses the matter and dismisses notions being circulated that this appointment serves only to facilitate a higher retirement pension for the newly appointed Deputy Commissioner of Police. Taxpayers should be pondering that if the law makes no provisions for two Deputy Commissioners, why should they be paying an increased salary and a later higher pension for a position that does not exist according to the current Laws of Barbados.
No, Mr Marshall, this is not just about yourself, Senator Franklyn or the new Deputy Commissioner, this is about the office of the Attorney General as well as Government by extension adhering to the same laws our Parliament creates and ensuring that autocracy does not creep through the backdoor into Barbados’ democracy.
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