Monday, April 22, 2024

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Exercise of old talk


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IT SHOULD BE CLEAR by now that party politics is ruining this country.

While there’s always been the competitiveness that’s expected from politicians, in recent years winning elections, with the concomitant guaranteed pensions, and upholding party “come hell or high water” have become paramount to those who govern (or misgovern, depending on how you look at it) this country.

A NATION editorial recently pleaded with the present Government for a balanced debate on the Estimates, not employing “tactics designed to avoid scrutiny of areas where its performance has been deemed to be less than stellar . . .”  Unless something has changed recently, there are 25 “heads” listed in the Estimates document, with only about 16, I would assume, needing debate.

Since five days of debate seems to have become a given, it should be possible, even after an introduction of reasonable length, to cover all these heads if one person from Government and one from opposition speaks on each head with succinct and relevant presentations, instead of squabbling, as they continue to do, about who did or didn’t do this, that or the other. In fact, it’s this very “you did it so it’s wrong and must be changed” attitude which destroys continuity, wastes money and hinders progress.

Interestingly, a Member of Parliament himself publicly described the debate as a meaningless exercise of old talk. It’s ironic, too, that the chairman, while trying to keep order amongst all the squabbling and unsatisfactory behaviour, kept insisting that members refer to each other as “Honourable”.

Even in the Senate, where there’s generally a higher quality of debate, there’s the tendency to “fill the time you’re allotted” whether or not you have something to say. I was listening recently to an Independent senator (who should have no political axe to grind), and could only glean about ten minutes of substance from his half-hour presentation. Why not stick to the point and leave out the repetition and “fluff”. On the other hand, our new senator Lady Haynes’ presentation should be used as a template for all senators: informative and to the point.

On the subject of the quality of present politicians, and hence the quality of debate, a caller, who admirably identified himself instead of hiding behind anonymity, called Brasstacks recently and expressed his feelings about politicians these days compared to the old days. He noted that in the past you could shut your eyes and vote since each party was equally capable.

Regrettably, these days you wonder if to vote at all, since your choice is between a rock and a hard place.

That being said, Ms Mottley must be complimented for encouraging Barbadians, by her own example, to stand up and take note of what’s happening around them and not accept, without question, whatever is thrown at them.

Her proposal for civil society to have a say in the governance of the country could make a significant positive difference, but instead of  the present administration commending her and embracing the idea, we’re now being treated to another diversionary tactic – the well worn “republic issue”.

The public has sensibly noted that they expect to have their say and not have this change thrust on them and that this is not a good time for such a move.

But can anyone explain how having a “new system” of government with the “same old” people with the “same old” attitudes and habits operating it will bring about any improvement? Will they miraculously change?

I would agree, however, with some reforms such as the People’s Initiative recently put forward by a group of well-known Barbadians, “whereby, through a legal mechanism, a petition signed by a minimum number of registered voters can lead to an obligatory parliamentary vote on a proposed piece of legislation”.

As the SUNDAY SUN editorial quite rightly points out, the substance of our governance matters more than the form of our democracy. Maybe our present system needs a little “Kamlising”. For example, don’t procrastinate on decisions and fire when firing is necessary, but the recent deplorable speech by a Trinidad junior minister and the “soft” handling of it by the prime minister must not be tolerated.

We must ensure that we’re not led down that road and that our Parliament is kept to a higher standard.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. E-mail:


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