Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Dr Ronnie Yearwood
In this column, I want to present an easy and more democratic option to the form of Republic wanted by the Prime Minister and the Government, and their supporters.
There are different types of republics, namely; presidential, semi-presidential, parliamentary, semi-parliamentary. The option presented by the Government, an unelected ceremonial President is just that, one option among many.
I think Barbados could have a hybrid parliamentary Republic that creates more checks on a powerful Executive which is often a complaint by Opposition political parties until they get their hands on the wheel. One day, we may get a leader willing to reshape our governance systems for the country and for the people. It is not outside the realm of possibilities. One day!
I propose the following:
• The current styled “constitutional monarchical” system be abolished and replaced with a republican constitutional system.
• The oath of allegiance must be amended to swear allegiance to Barbados and The People of Barbados.
• The Head of State should be directly elected by The People for a fixed five-year term renewable only once. The Head of State should not be “selected” by an electoral college of Parliament (in reality a selection that will be driven by a Prime Minister) if we are to give meaning to every Bajan boy and girl being able to aspire to be President.
A directly elected President will move the power to The People and away from the political elite who in an Electoral College will just haggle, in the backrooms, over a rum and coke or champagne, on which one of them should be President. Of course, political parties will field candidates for the Presidency, but any Barbadian who wants to run for President can run just like any Barbadian can run for a seat in the House of Assembly as an independent.
• The election date should be fixed to allow for the election of the Head of State and members of the House of Assembly at the same time for a fixed period of five years (many republics do this). This will remove the power of a Prime Minister to call elections when they want. It stabilises the election cycle so Members of Parliament (MPs) and a Prime Minister can get on with governing.
If fixed election dates are “a bridge too far” for this Prime Minister, the President could be elected by a separate ballot when we vote for MPs in a General Election and serve for the same term of the Parliament.
• A five-year term of the Prime Minister should be renewable only once. The Prime Minister can only serve two consecutive five-year terms.
• Rename the office of Opposition Leader as “Minority Leader”. This evolves the office from simply seen as “opposing” to part of the leadership of the country and as according to the various Constitutional roles that are required to be performed by the office.
• Only the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (this office needs to be clearly established) will be from members of the Legislature. The Prime Minister will be accountable to Parliament as head of the Cabinet and removable by a vote of no confidence in the usual way.
• Ministers will not be from the Legislature. If a MP, from the lower house, is selected by the Prime Minister as a Minister, they will resign their seat and a substitute member will replace them as an MP. This can be easily achieved with “running mates” being named alongside persons running for MPs (as in the system in France which is a republic), or what we are more familiar with when a sitting MP resigns, a by-election. Running mates would appear to cost less money than a by-election.
Whichever approach is selected, the overall idea is to promote more separation between Executive and Legislature and allow the Legislature to do its job properly of scrutinisng laws and being a check on the Executive.
The British system of government we modelled ours on where MPs are appointed Ministers only works there because they are still enough other MPs in the lower house to act as an effective Legislature and check on the power of the Executive.
In Barbados, a majority of the Government MPs end up being in the Executive.
• Ministers be called to account to Parliament and Parliament will be responsible for ratifying the Prime Ministers’ selection of Ministers.
The hope is to get more competent Ministers and provide for more scrutiny of their appointment and subsequently the job they do. Ministers will then focus on all of Barbados and not use their role as Ministers to focus on their constituencies to try to win re-election. Ministers will keep exhibiting behaviour of using Ministries to focus resources in their constituencies for re-election, as long as we keep having MPs as Ministers.
• Create Special Parliamentary Committees to monitor Government departments and Ministers have to report to those committees.
• Abolish the Senate. In its current form the Senate is just a rubber stamp for the Government of the day. However, if the Senate is to be retained because some argue it provides for different interests to be at the table of governance, then we should revise the composition reducing the inbuilt majority of the Government. That could be achieved by equalissing the composition, 7 Independent senators selected by the President, 7 Senators by the Prime Minister and 7 by the Minority Leader (formerly the Opposition Leader).
It could also be achieved by reducing the current Government majority without equalizing across the board.
In a new set-up, the current delay powers of the Senate could be simplified and reformed so more scrutiny of legislation has to take place, but not that the unelected chamber can stop the elected chamber from acting. Both ways would provide proper scrutiny of legislation without allowing the gridlock many fear would emerge from a contentious but unelected Senate.
I have tried to sketch an idea for a new Republic and you may have your own. The point is that we have options and we should explore them instead of simply settling for the status quo. The change to a Republic cannot just be a name change, but must truly be a new Republic which will require meaningful engagement with the people and constitutional reform.
I get you
I get that people are thinking, take what the Government has put on the table because we cannot do any better, and it is sad that Governments play on that time after time. But we can do better and I ask, don’t we deserve better? Does this process for constitutional reform not deserve reverence, respect and meaningful change? Does the process to become a Republic not deserve engagement with the people? The change to a Republic cannot be a tick box exercise because some people wish to see a “Republic” happen in their lifetime.
I truly empathise and agree with everyone that the time for the Republic has come. I also recall an old saying that you plant a tree not for you to enjoy the shade but for the next generation.
A question often asked, with no answer so far is why this year? There is nothing magical about this year as opposed to next year for full and meaningful reform. Barbadians deserve a chance and say to truly build a new Republic for us and our children. Don’t we have regard for who we are, even if our leadership may not? The idea above is simply my view, sourcing from other political and constitutional systems, Review Commissions (such as St. Lucia) among others, but you may have a different view and that is why I remain committed to the point that the people must have a direct say through a referendum.
Please join the movement to encourage the Prime Minister to delay the current plan to swap one ceremonial head of state for the next, without meaningful change. Join fellow Barbadians and myself by signing the petition (https://www.change.org/BarbadosReferendumRepublic). Almost 2,000 people have already signed. As a friend says, “when we can do better, do better” and we surely can do better than the current proposal from Government for a Republic.
Dr Ronnie Yearwood is a lecturer in law, lawyer and social commentator. Email: [email protected]