by Fernella Wedderburn and Shamar Blunt
Two of the Mia Mottley administration’s most prominent critics have given qualified support for Governor General Dame Sandra Mason being made the first President of Barbados on its transition to a republic on November 30.
Both seemed to agree that the nation’s last viceroy would make a great first non-executive president and that the Government botched its approach to the transition process.
Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has given his support to the inaugural president’s nomination, but is of the view that the announcement was handled “a little clumsily”.
But newly re-elected Democratic Labour Party (DLP) president Verla DePeiza declared Sunday that under the current Constitution of Barbados, the administration has no authority to “have your own coronation” of Dame Sandra as president.
In an address to the nation on Saturday, the Prime Minister said she met with Dame Sandra some two months ago and indicated to her administration’s intention to nominate her to the post.
Mottley said: “I am happy to report to the people of this nation… that Her Excellency Dame Sandra Mason has consented to my Government nominating her at the appropriate time to be the first President of this nation. We feel that this is the way we want to go and we want to thank Her Excellency for so graciously consenting in this manner.”
The nomination must first to get the nod of approval from both Houses of Parliament, a likely foregone conclusion particularly given the Government’s command of all but a single seat in the House of Assembly, with the single opposition seat being held by Bishop Atherley who signalled his support for the move.
Bishop Atherley, the leader of the Peoples Party for Democracy and Development, told Barbados TODAY: “I am not at all against that.”
He explained that when the Prime Minister first announced the date of Barbados becoming a Republic she had also said that some of the recommendations of Forde Report on constitutional reform would be adopted.
“I knew from my research of the report that it had also recommended that the incumbent… filling the office of the Governor General at the time it became a Republic should be the first Head of State to become the President of Barbados and I didn’t hear mention of any intention to do so. So, I am glad to see that it is coming forth now because I had called for that,” he said.
However, he added: “I think that even that reference to Government’s intention to nominate Her Excellency is being handled a little clumsily and I am not going to spend a lot of time on that because I don’t want to cause the office of Her Excellency to be subject to controversy discussion triggered by myself, but that is still being handled a little clumsily, if I would say so.
“The process of nomination is not known.
The mechanism for such an election has not yet been formalized and yet we can have announcements made to the extent that even the media, from what I read and what I hear, are saying definitively that Government has nominated Dame Sandra Mason to be the first President but I don’t think that’s the case. I think the Prime Minister acknowledged the intention of Government to name her as their nominee which I support.”
In her speech to the party faithful at the DLP’s George Street Auditorium following her resounding election win over challenger Reverend Guy Hewitt, DePeiza acknowledged that Dame Sandra, whom the DLP administration appointed Governor General in its last five months in office, would be able to serve the new position well.
But she was adamant that such a change could not be done without a constitutional amendment, which even the current Governor General, who was a jurist before taking up office, would know.
DePeiza declared: “To come … and think that we can be appeased by saying that the present Governor General will be the first president, when we recognize that you don’t have the authority to make any such announcement in this country…. We are a country of laws. You are talking about getting rid of the Queen of England and want to have your own coronation.”
“You cannot make these changes outside of the constitution of Barbados – we owe it to her [Dame Sandra] not to have that stain on her record, that she would be used in such a foul manner,” added the DLP leader. “The democracy of Barbados remains paramount in this country, and the Democratic Labour Party will stand up every single time, even if we stand alone, on behalf of the people of Barbados [in] supporting democracy in this country.”
DePeiza once again stated her support for the move to become a republic, as it was her party’s view that the nation was ready to break fully from its colonial past.
However, she said the switch has to be a fully transparent process, with Barbadians being able to voice their views on how this version of republicanism would function.
DePeiza continued: “We in the Democratic Labour Party appreciates that this is another step in our step in our colonial legacy that we need to clip the cords of. We get it, we understand and we had a committee that always considered what we would want the republic to look like, but we did so having had focus groups on the issue.
So we know and can speak confidently to the fact that the people of Barbados want to have a greater say in their political destiny.
“There is more favour on the ground for an elected president, than for any nominated president, particularly if you are going to talk about an electoral college. The people of Barbados look on at world events, and even if you do not design the electoral college in the same way that the one in the US is designed, we have watched how it operates democracy, and we want no part of it.”