Former president of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Verla DePeiza is calling for Government to engage in serious constitutional reform and not simply tinker with the Barbados Constitution.
She has insisted that this is important to bringing balance as far as democracy here is concerned.
“Democracy is not just about the majority ruling but it is about maintaining the minority rights, so we have to be able to find that balance between the two. There is an argument, and I believe it is a fairly strident argument, that balance is not being met in the Barbadian context. We are three months into a new administration, we are five months into a new republic and we are absent from a working constitution,” DePeiza contended during a virtual town hall meeting on Constitutional Reform: Term Limits, Executive Control and Democracy held on Sunday evening, via Zoom.
Addressing the swearing-in ceremony of Cabinet members after her Barbados Labour Party’s clean sweep in the January 19 general elections, Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared that the Constitution would undergo reform in the coming months.
She said then that the “real work and heavy lifting” on constitutional reform would start in a matter of weeks, followed by a consultation process with the public.
Since then, unsuccessful constitutional amendments were taken to Parliament to reduce the minimum age for appointment to the Senate from 21 to 18 and to provide for the party which receives the second-highest number of votes in a general election to nominate two Senators if there is no Leader of the Opposition.
DePeiza, who resigned as DLP president after leading the party into the 30-nil defeat at the polls, said constitutional reform had to go beyond small changes and must also embrace the views of citizens.
“A thriving democracy needs to have that contract with the people and in the absence of having that contract then we are moving forward blindly. It is not enough to make minor changes to the Constitution but we have reached that stage now where we a have to be contracting with our people all over again and the conversation relating to terms limits is a timely one because we need to be hearing from our people not just in panel discussions like this but definitely on the ground to find out from people what they are really looking for,” she said.
Also on the panel for the town hall meeting – which was moderated by Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill campus Professor Cynthia Barrow-Giles and UWI law lecturer Dr Ronnie Yearwood, who was also the DLP’s St James South candidate in the last general election – was Premier of Nevis Dr Mark Brantley who spoke about term limits for politicians and how that related to democracy.
“I don’t know, however, if simply creating an artificial limitation on a person’s ability to serve will ultimately lead to the strengthening of our democracy.
“I believe [time] should be spent on how do we strengthen our democracy because if our democracies are strong, if our elections are free and fair, if our constitutions have in them the necessary checks and balances and our people have the necessary political education where they can and do make informed decisions, then the very framework of our countries would determine term limits,” he posited.
Brantley, who also serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, noted that prime ministers in the Caribbean wield tremendous power in some areas, including determining an election date which he said is often whipped out at a time convenient to them, and selection of ministers.
“If those powers remain unchecked and the constitution doesn’t provide for inherent checks and balances on the exercise of those powers, then it means that we have to resort to other means like term limits to ensure that over time, absolute power doesn’t end up corrupting absolutely,” he contended.
Also adding to the narrative was Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes from Trinidad and Tobago who argued that the power of regional prime ministers increased the longer they remained in power.
However, he said checks and balances could address that.
“Difficulties arise but you have to balance the possible amalgamation of power with the possibility that you are cutting off your nose by getting rid of some of the people who may be interested in political life and who have the talent. In each country, you’re going to have to balance it off to see what is appropriate. In fact, you can get the other checks and balances in other areas to ensure the Premier or Prime Minister does not wield too much power,” he said. (MR)
Also on the panel for Sunday night’s tow