Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
There is a lot of intellectual dishonesty on the issue of a Republic and constitutional reform that passes as commentary from some newspapers, radio and members of the political class in this country.
Barrow, Father of Independence, said the following in the lead up to Independence which is being used today to argue why we should not have a referendum on the form of republic, or for some, whether we become a republic. Barrow said on January 4, 1966: “If [the people] do not like the decisions taken by the Government in office, they have recourse to the ballot box.
“This is what we call a democratic system of government, and as long as this Government is in office, we will stick to that. People must understand that a good government is put there to make decisions… [the people] have two checks.
“You have the ballot box and [the party has] to publish a programme in what is called a manifesto; otherwise, any man can get up on a public platform and say whatever he likes.”
Barrow said many things, some we can set aside and some we still find relevant in the now, especially on how we allow our governments to treat us, when they are instruments of ours. History can be a teacher if we allow it but some try to use it for intellectual dishonesty.
Why should we be shackled by two Constitution commission reports, the Cox (1979) and the Forde (1996). When these reports were written, Black Lives Matter, the me too movement, Trump, re-rise of the far right and far left, China as a super power, the internet, online shopping, electric cars, self-driving cars, smart phones, and we can go on and on, were not issues or things.
The world has changed!
Importantly and the part of the statement that some may wish to leave out is that Barrow also made it clear that important policies must be in a manifesto and not random statements from a political platform.
The fact is that the Prime Minister and the Government did not put the move to a Republic in the BLP manifesto and first announced the move in the Throne speech a year ago and recently at the end of a speech, provided a few hints on the form the Republic will take.
However, on page 45 of the BLP Manifesto under the heading: “Giving Bajans a Greater Say on National Affairs”, a BLP government would be “Introducing National Dialogues, National Referenda and consulting with Barbadians on major national issues.”
If becoming a republic is not an issue for a Referendum what is? So, to some of the intellectually dishonest commentators on radio and in newspapers, and members of the political class, who think researching Barrow and somehow trying to use something he said ages ago as justification for no discussion on the issue of a republic, or for not having a vote on the type of republic we want, or for some if we become a republic at all, put your research away.
If I am brutally honest, the generation of Barbadians that any change to a republic will affect deserve the respect and chance to have a say.
It will be us and our children who will have to live with this, not you commentators and the political class. You all have had more than enough opportunities to shape and lead this country. Yet you still cling to the wheel even now.
And you wonder why younger Barbadians do not want to stay in Barbados. What will they stay for? Perhaps for once in your lives, let go, give Barbadians a say, a referendum and a chance.
Could we possibly do any worse than the political class? A referendum is simply a device to put some important matters to the people for a vote.
It is not that referenda will be used for every single decision or the day-to-day decisions of a government.
And anyone pushing that folly needs to be told that. If the Prime Minister and the Government are confident that their two choices on the matter, one that Barbados becomes a Republic and two, the form of Republic with a ceremonial President appointed by the Prime
Minister (under the guise of appointment by Parliament) are held by a majority of Barbadians, what is the issue to put it to a referendum? Fear of losing? The Prime Minister and Government have 29 seats, so not sure why they are afraid to face Barbadians on this issue.
I have said it before, the process of a transition to a republic by the Prime Minister and the Government has been disrespectful, from a few words by the Prime Minister on the matter at the end of a speech to give us hints of the details.
It has been disingenuous in appointing a largely unqualified committee to hold public discussions and report (none of which happened) and the confirmation in a recent announcement by the Prime Minister and the Government that the decision has already been made on the form of Republic.
It has also been puerile in treating Bajans as if they are fools, as the process set out for the revision of the constitution is backward and illogical; a President first, then revision of the constitution, as if a new republic should not have a new constitution.
People are not asking for a say because they do not have other things to contend with; COVID, vaccine information and misinformation, cannot feed their families, no work, cannot buy gas.
People want a say because it is an important issue and any government should welcome that outside of an election cycle that Barbadians are interested and keen to participate in their democracy and shape its direction.
The Prime Minister and Members of Parliament on the issue of the republic have treated us with contempt. Let us not have contempt for ourselves. Prime Minister and our Members of Parliament, we will have our say!
On 28 May 1986, Barrow in asking what kind of mirror image we have of ourselves, said that when your government has contempt for you, it is because you allow it and you have contempt for yourself.
Please join the movement and visit the link (https://www.change.org/ BarbadosReferendumRepublic) to have a say on the issue of Barbados becoming a republic.
Dr Ronnie Yearwood is a lecturer in law, lawyer and social commentator.
Email: [email protected]