Two of the country’s leading political scientists have concluded that Prime Minister Mia Mottley did not act outside her legal authority during a highly-publicised interaction with a Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) officer that has raised questions about potential abuse of power from the highest office in the land.
Retired Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies Dr. George Belle however contends that even if Mottley was not legally at fault, her actions could be interpreted as a show of intimidation toward law enforcement officials.
Over the last four days, the PM has come under heavy fire from Opposition officials for directly intervening, as RBPF officials attempted to close The Cook Shop on Deacons Road, for an apparent contravention of Emergency (COVID-19 Directive) No. 7.
Mottley’s account of the Good Friday event however states that whilst speaking to the officers on loudspeaker on a device owned by business owner Ross Ashton, she asked if the ‘patrons’ were wearing masks and seated in a manner that complied with physical distancing. The PM then asked officers to disclose the concern that would require officers closing the establishment, to which no further concerns were expressed.
When asked to weigh in on the developments, Dr. Belle said he was concerned that certain factual issues had not been addressed including full disclosure from the RBPF about the reason for visiting the establishment and from shop owner Ashton about the nature of his activities on Good Friday.
Dr. Belle however debunked the notion that Mottley’s actions could be deemed as a breach of the Constitutional doctrine of Separation of Powers, which dictates that based on her current post, she should have no direct dealings in the day-to-day running of institutions like the RBPF.
“I will take the point that if somebody calls the Prime Minister and a policeman is being faced with the fact the [businessman] is calling the Prime Minister, that that is to intimidate the officer, but it has nothing to do with any constitutional issue or any breach of the executive relationship between the police and the Prime Minister and the police and the legislature. It has to do with the de facto intimidation of the officer, because the person is the Prime Minister and that must be clearly understood,” Belle told Barbados TODAY.
“It has to do with the de facto political reality that one person is the Prime Minister of Barbados and the other person is just a police officer… and therefore I would say that the Prime Minister should have avoided an immediate intervention, but that is more to do with the fact that there could be an intimidation that you don’t want to happen,” the political scientist further explained.
All attempts to get a response from the police department were futile.
Barbados TODAY visited the Cook Shop on Wednesday, where an employee revealed that the owner, Ross Ashton was not present. He however suggested that Ashton would not be available for comment.
Digging deep into his decades of experience, the former Dean contended that because of the PM’s position as an elected MP, citizens can ask her to make inquiries on their behalf. But he added that it would have been totally inappropriate for the PM to instruct the officers to act in one way or another.
“As a representative of the people, it is the right of the people to call on the representative for assistance… So you would then have to hear what the exchange was between her and this member of the electorate, because although he is not a member of her constituency, he is a member of the electorate and she is a representative of Barbados, “ Dr Belle told Barbados TODAY.
“She can call the police or anybody and say ‘a member of the electorate is asking me as a representative to put forward this particular case on their behalf. Can you clarify?’. That is all she has to do and in doing so, she has not acted as an executive.
“But she is also Prime Minister, so she is head of the Cabinet, which is part of the Executive in our Government. So what she has to do is to clearly separate herself from any executive action, from any representative behaviour. So she should not tell the police what they are to do ultimately. She can’t give them an order because that would be an overreach of powers,” the former lecturer explained.
Respected pollster and political scientist Peter Wickham, whilst moderating the Tuesday edition of Starcom Network’s Down to Brass Tacks programme declared that he has no objections to the PM’s actions if her account of the event remains undisputed.
“If the policeman in question has information or believes that the instructions were given and would certainly want to suggest that the Prime Minister has misled us regarding what was really said, I think he needs to speak now or forever hold his peace,” Wickham urged.
“Because in the final analysis, that police officer is the final arbiter as to whether or not there was an instruction or there was a question. For me it is really quite simple. If it was a question that was asked, I see nothing wrong with a question being asked,” he added.
Since the incident, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) President Verla DePeiza accused the PM of publicly undermining the RBPF while Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn has called on Governor General Dame Sandra Mason to officially reprimand Mottley.
In a direct response to Franklyn, Dr Belle dismissed the notion that Dame Sandra should intervene as a “nonsense point”, as she did not possess such power in the Barbadian context.