There have been reasonable questions raised about how active and functional the island’s democracy could be in the absence of an official opposition conducting its work in the House of Assembly.
Barbados faced such a scenario in 2018 when Barbadians, either completely frustrated with the last administration or extremely confident in what the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was offering as an alternative government, or a combination of both.
The fact is the people of this country spoke loudly at the polls and decimated the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in a historic whitewash, giving the Mottley administration complete control of Parliament.
Of course, one defection from the BLP camp by Bishop Joseph Atherley provided a solitary voice from the opposing benches of the august Chamber.
However, as if to demonstrate how very unapologetic they were about the 30-0 result of 2018, voters again gave Prime Minister Mottley a similar mandate in January 2022.
But as history has taught us, there are several advantages to having a full and free hand in the legislative and executive bases of power. The ruling administration can easily push through its legislative and political agendas without resistance.
At the same time, there are disadvantages to being in possession of such an abundance of power. Each of the 30 constituencies will be calling on the government, with an equal case for the administration’s attention.
This is playing out in the public discourse surrounding the appointment of constituency assistants for those Members of Parliament who are without Ministries.
This matter came to public attention, not from mainstream media coverage of the Senate Chamber, but from the very vibrant social media activists who use the platforms to readily reach a cross section of the public. It showed a short clip from Independent Senator Monique Taitt.
Since its viral circulation, the matter has been actioned by traditional media, while average Barbadians have not been shy about offering their views on the matter through various radio call-in programmes.
From the backbenches of Parliament, former Minister in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs Marsha Caddle joined the debate in defence of the government’s plan.
There is, though, a sense that the timing of the employment of these constituency assistants may not have been ideal.
Even if Barbadians were concerned about the absolute consolidation of power in the hands of one political party, the presence of MPs like Trevor Prescod offer a small measure of counterbalance.
In a clash this week, that did not appear contrived or covert political theatre, Mr Prescod took his party colleague and Minister of Housing Dwight Sutherland to task over access to thousands of housing solutions planned for areas that border his constituency over the next five years.
Arguing that “pens” were being constructed for poor people, he added: “Adequate facilities are required. I just don’t want to hear that this contractor is prepared to do the work at this specific price but then the facilities, and the size and space within a bedroom and a drawing room, is equivalent to any proper pen.”
Prescod, not one to retreat from a battle, especially ones relating to perceived imbalances in power dynamics, went further.
“Too many small, black contractors are complaining to me that this massive 10 000 housing programme that is to be completed within five years, that they are, in some cases, whether it is one agency or the other, receiving three units, two units, one unit per year.
“They are also complaining that there is no profit as a consequence of the cost of materials for the construction of houses, especially by the Urban Development Commission and by the Rural Development Commission. They end up with a major deficit and have to inject funds into the construction of these houses,” he added.
The Housing Minister, of course, rejected the assertion his ministry was involved in the building of “pens” for poor Barbadians, as he rose on a point of order.
We are not naïve. We do not believe this is mere banter, with MPs playing to the audience. What it reveals is even within the power bases, there is dissent where not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, at least not every Sunday.