What were Barrow & Williams Thinking?

errol barrow and eric williamsBarbadians are warming to the idea that they should participate continually in decision making in their country when traditionally they have felt that their duty was to vote every five years and then go about their own business.

H.E. Errol W. Barrow & Dr. Eric E. Williams

There are many extra-constitutional means of doing this such as communicating with your Member of Parliament staging demonstrations, taking strike action, engaging in letter writing campaigns and sit-ins. Demonstrations and strike action are perhaps the tools most often used in Barbados.

Governments and some Ministers do take the engagement of the public seriously and would invite them to consult before developing and implementing any major policy initiative. This of course depends very much upon the temperament of the Minister, there being no legal requirement to consult.

Call for greater participation

Barbadians have made lukewarm calls for referenda on issues such as decoupling of Barbados from the United Kingdom. They have also suggested that they should be able to re-call parliamentarians.

Those who know how easy it is to manipulate political outcomes by those who have the greatest access to money have been skeptical. There is no doubt that an individual who had managed to win a seat could be unseated through recall by those within his or her own party or the opposition party through bribing the electors.

No provisions for referenda

All CARICOM countries currently have provisions for referenda in their Independence Constitutions except for Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. Belize passed a Referendum Act in 1999.

Referenda experience

On June 23rd 2016 Barbadians saw a referendum play out before them in the United Kingdom where through a simple majority (52% to 48%) the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union.

This reflects the power of the media since the referendum in St. Vincent and the Grenadines did not engage Barbadians in the same manner.

Arnhim Eustace & Dr. Ralph Gonsalves

A constitutional referendum was held in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on November 25th 2009.Voters were asked whether they approved of a new Constitution which would have replaced the Constitution in force since independence in 1979.The proposal included removal of the Queen of England as Head of State and the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal for that country. It was supported by only 43.13% of voters in the referendum, well short of the required two-thirds threshold.

In the Vincentian process a broad-based body had been established by the Government, Opposition and the Social Partners, however by the date of the vote commentators expressed the view that the process had been hijacked by partisan political interests.

Can we get it right?

drAlexisDr. Francis Alexis Q.C. in Changing Caribbean Constitutions expresses his views on referenda thus:

To be successful, a referendum for constitutional change requires that there be national consensus on proposed changes. So there has to be astute patriotic statesmanship on the part of leading opinion shapers, especially on the part of both Government and Opposition. The process might be helped if the people have choices    among separate bills; rather than being presented with a separate bill which leaves no room for choices. [1]

Dr. Francis Alexis Q.C.

Did the UK meet the standard

This is a standard which clearly was not met in the United Kingdom starting with the £350 million pounds which would not be available to the National Health Scheme. Constitutional lawyer at the University of Liverpool Professor Michael Dougan described the Leave Campaign as dishonesty on an industrial scale. And he provides examples.

Leavers had argued that EU legislation was adopted by the unelected commission which is untrue. Professor Dougan explained that all of it is adopted by the council which is represented by the elected governments. No doubt used as a scare tactic voters were told that there was a plan in the EU to create a European army which would absorb the UK army against the will of UK citizens. The Constitutional lawyer pointed out that A common European defence policy would require approval at the domestic level within the UK parliaments. Here is the full presentation:

MichaelDougan-1w

Professor Michael Dougan

https://www.facebook.com/UniversityofLiverpool/videos/1304633102897424/?pnref=story

Professor Dougan ultimately described that systematic dishonesty was used as a primary tool to win votes and as such has done untold damage to the British democracy. And he is right.

Can Barbados meet the standard?

Well what would one say about the Barbados democracy?

Barbadians are used to hearing lies from the political platform and no one seems outraged by them. They seem to accept that this is the nature of politics. It however creates apathy and disillusionment especially when the lies seem to come from both sides.

In order for the people to determine how they should vote in a referendum they must understand fully the implications of their vote. How many people actually understand how CARICOM works just as one might ask how many people understood how the EU works?

How many people understand functional cooperation and the carve outs negotiated internationally based on a single market?

Yet individuals frequently say that CARICOM is a waste of time without actually knowing.

It is accepted that members of the public whose main objective is to keep their household going would not have the time to read and internalize the Treaty of Chaguaramas as well as the various decisions of the organs of CARICOM.

We can do better

This is why Dr. Alexis’ statement is so critical. The integrity of the opinion shapers is critical.

Unless the individuals leading the campaigns are going to be honest then a referendum vote by an informed electorate would be almost impossible.

Given our history of “corned beef and biscuit” and “roti and rum” politics it would be difficult for Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago to ever reach that standard, even though  bribing electors is in breach of the election legislation.

Perhaps this is what HE Errol W. Barrow and Dr. Eric E. Williams understood when finalising the provisions of the Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago constitutions.

However theirs was a young democracy. CARICOM must work towards a more engaged and more informed electorate as our democracies mature.

Barbados celebrates 50 years of independence on November 30th, 2016.

[1] Alexis, Francis, Changing Caribbean Constitutions at paragraph 3.79

Lynette Eastmond