The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has rejected an offer from Prime Minister Mia Mottley for the defeated party to nominate persons to fill the two vacant Opposition seats in the Senate, declaring that it is not hers to gift.
Acting DLP President Steve Blackett said Wednesday the offer was not made within the “four corners of the law” and his party will therefore not be complicit in any such arrangement.
During an address to the nation on Monday when she announced her new Cabinet and Senate picks, the Prime Minister said she would consult with the opposition parties that contested the January 19 general election on the appointment of two Opposition Senators.
Mottley’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in the House of Assembly.
“It is the intention of this government again to engage with the opposition parties which contested the last two elections to determine how best they may participate in the appointment of two opposition senators provided for in our Constitution,” Mottley stated.
“I am equally awaiting a legal opinion from the Honourable Attorney General on this matter before we start those formal discussions with the opposition parties,” the Prime Minister added.
But the DLP, which garnered the second-highest number of votes at the polls, cited Section 75 of the Constitution of Barbados to ground its reason for rejecting the prime minister’s offer.
Blackett said the party looked at the matter and took guidance from its “legal brains” with respect to the constitutionality of the offer.
“The part of the Constitution which spoke to that is Section 75 which clearly states that in the absence of a Leader of the Opposition that the Governor-General or the President now, names nine candidates instead of seven,” he said.
“So the gift that Mottley is offering is a gift that she cannot offer. It is not an offer to us that is hers to give. You see, once you start wrong, you are going to end wrong,” Blackett contended.
The interim DLP leader added: “We are not going to be complicit in agreeing to something being offered to us, when it does not fit within the four corners of the law or the Constitution.”
“I know people are saying we should take the offer. You can’t do that. In this interim period, while I am acting president, I am not going to be complicit in an offer that is not framed in the four corners of the Constitution.
“And from all that I am hearing from our legal brains in the party, the offer cannot come from Mottley. It has to come from somebody else. I am not going to say the President, because as you know, political parties are not recognised in the Constitution. Therefore, the President cannot find herself immersed in the business of political parties,” the acting DLP president pointed out.
Blackett however said the party is willing to take up the offer once it is done properly.
“When it properly comes to us, the organs of the party will sit at George Street and decide, if we first will accept the offer and once we accept the offer, we will identify the two people to occupy those two seats in the Senate,” he stated.
Asked if there was any need to amend the Constitution, Blackett told Barbados TODAY the party’s legal counsel has advised that it is not necessary to “tamper” with the island’s supreme law.
“Depending on the advice of the legal brains in the party, they are saying there is no need to tamper with the Constitution…embedded in the Constitution at Section 75 clearly speaks to who should act and who should make the offer,” he said.
Also weighing in on the issue was the leader of the Alliance Party for Progress (APP) Bishop Joseph Atherley.
He said the APP, which fielded 20 candidates in the election, would also be interested in being represented in the Senate once given the opportunity.
However, like the DLP, which vied for all 30 seats in the recent general election, the APP would only do so if the process was constitutional.
“My party is interested in preserving democracy in Barbados and developing democracy in Barbados. If there is something that is proposed that includes us that is legal, it is constitutional, it is moral, I am sure that the Alliance Party would seriously consider them,” said Atherley who had crossed the floor to become the Opposition Leader when his then BLP party accomplished its first 30-nil victory in the May 2018 election.
He also raised questions as to whether Section 75 of the Constitution applied to the appointment of two Opposition Senators.
“I think what Section 75 is saying that where there is no Leader of the Opposition and where the Constitution requires that the Governor-General [President] makes a decision after consulting with the Leader of the Opposition…in the absence of that leader, the Governor-General can make that decision at her own discretion.
“But I am saying that I do not know if that applies to the appointment of two senators on behalf of the Opposition,” Bishop Atherley told Barbados TODAY.
Again like the DLP hierarchy, the APP leader believes the Head of State should be shielded from any semblance of political involvement in the appointment of a party representative in the Upper Chamber.
“Certainly, you would not want to know that the President, the Head of State is in the business of identifying two people, apart from the independent senators…You would not want to put the office of the President in a position where the President is identifying two people to speak on behalf of the Opposition,” Bishop Atherley argued.
He said he would prefer to see a Constitutional arrangement where, in the absence of an Opposition Leader, one or two political parties are allowed to name the persons to those positions and all the President would therefore have to do is to confirm the appointments.
Atherley said while he accepted that the Prime Minister’s offer was a good idea in the circumstances, he thought she went about it in the wrong way.
“I hope it can be appreciated now by a few more people as to why I did what I did because it helps us to get out of this bit of a mess that we are in. I think the Prime Minister, rightly so, is suggesting that we need to have that balance in the Senate and therefore she might have gone about it in terms of speaking to it publicly. That may have been an error in the way she did it. But I think she is recognising that those positions are critically important.”
He noted that whatever is done, there is a need to get the Parliament properly constituted because there are some serious issues to be addressed.