Whether or not Barbados transitions to a republic should not be a pressing issue for Barbadians, believes university lecturer Dr Ronnie Yearwood.
He is of the view that people should instead be more focused on advocating for meaningful political and constitutional changes.
Dr Yearwood, a law lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, made the comments this afternoon while delivering a lecture at the Barbados Yacht Club entitled, Is a Republic a New Future for Barbados?
He made it clear that he was not against Barbados becoming a republic, but said such a move was more about symbolism than effecting any real change.
Dr Yearwood also frowned on the makeup of the recently established Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee, saying it was “woefully unprepared for the task at hand”.
“The discussion about being a republic is often framed as for and against, with no context or discussion of the wider political changes or constitutional changes that Barbados requires. It means that the conversation around the republic often is limited [to] whether we will have an executive or ceremonial presidency, and so the conversation is stunted right from the beginning. Our first task must be to open the conversation and deepen the conversation,” Dr Yearwood insisted.
“We understand that a republic simply means limited government, within the context of rule of law. Basically, the people are the true power and government functions within the law, and that no one is above the law. Therefore, the real issue I think we face is not about whether Barbados becomes a republic or not, or that Barbados patriates its Constitution or not, especially if we operate on the premise that we already control our Constitution and there is nothing that can invalidate that premise.”
The lecturer said the conversations surrounding the move to a republic provided the perfect opportunity for Barbadians to have an input in how governance is administered, noting that the real issue was the relationship between the people of Barbados and the Government.
While he expressed disappointment that Barbadians were not given a say by way of a referendum on the move to a republic, Dr Yearwood insisted that Barbadians should have a say in who presides over them.
“Let us consider that the Government will continue with its intended change, it appears, of swapping one ceremonial head for another – the Governor-General for a President. Then I think that any new president of a republic, ceremonial or executive, should be directly elected and all Barbadians afforded the opportunity to run for and vote for this office,” he said.
“The Prime Minister likes to talk about every Barbadian boy or girl aspiring to the high office and knowing it is not representative of the Queen. Let us make that aspiration real and not just talk. Let us have the new president or whatever it is called directly elected, that those boys and girls can aspire to, and not a president formed in the backrooms of the Parliament functioning as an electoral college for choosing a president, likely one of the same political class.”
He further suggested that Barbadians should be given even more power to determine things such as the size of the Cabinet, if persons outside of Parliament could serve as ministers, and if there was a need to reduce the number of constituencies.
Dr Yearwood said while this was the perfect opportunity to make meaningful changes to the Constitution of Barbados, that should be done with input from citizens.
“If the Government is trying to dress up what is a role swap from the Queen to another ceremonial head state, or to sneak in critical discussions in the terms of reference, then that is not only disingenuous to the people of Barbados, it smacks of disrespect to the Constitution and to the people.
“This could be a real moment for real change of the Constitution and our governance systems, not amending the Constitution and tinker at the margins, but we have to seize it and we have to demand it,” he said.