Archive | April, 2010

Parliamentary Melt Down

30 Apr

Barbados Parliament

We have had discussions in this forum about the conduct of the proceedings in Parliament in Barbados. Recently we had the gun incident, where the Speaker has apparently ruled that there should be no new gun policy in Parliament. One should note that this was even in circumstances where both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition agreed that there should be a gun policy for Parliament. Then there was the most recent incident where the Speaker asked the marshall in the Lower House to remove two members of the Opposition. After that we had a presentation by Dale Marshall concerning the gun incident. This was delivered amongst heckling and laughter. Is Barbados suffering a Parliamentary melt down?

Barbadians have had their say on these various incidents. Most of the discussions that has been heard publicly is et along partisan lines. We continue to warn members of the Lower House however that they really need to set a better example for the youth of this country and the people of this country as a whole. Parliamentarians have the capacity to set the tone for a nation. Part of the problem is that they can not hear themselves and really can not hear how badly they come across. Many of them seem not to be confident that the content of their speeches and their presence in Parliament carry any weight and seek to supplement this by behaviour which could only be described in the kindest way as lacking in decorum. We can only hope that these individuals that are meant to be representing a wide cross-section of Barbadians would accept the responsibility that the privilege of being a Member of Parliament actually carries.


The UK Election Debate – hear about immigration

21 Apr

All three parties agreed that there was need for political reform. The one aspect that they seemed to agree on was the right of the people to recall MPs that are corrupt. In addition Labour emphasised the reform of the House of Lords where there would be an elected House and there would be no more hereditary peers. The Conservatives seemed to be more concerned with cutting MP’s salaries as well as the number of MPs. The Lib Dems seemed to be particularly concerned with party funding and cutting the cost of politics. These are all issues that are real to the Barbados electorate as well.

Are Barbadians being treated equally under the law?

21 Apr

Dorothy Height a female voice in the USA Civil Rights movement died at the age of 98. She fought for racial and gender equality

There have been two recent gun related incidents in Barbados that have raised a great deal of debate in Barbados. The debate has not subsided as yet. The first concerned two members of Parliament (Dale Marshall and David Estwick), one of which, David Estwick has been accused of assault. This particular issue got side tracked by a belief that the Speaker had jurisdiction over criminal offences in Barbados as long as they occurred within the precincts of Parliament. Commonsense would suggest that this is untrue even if one were unschooled in the law. The second incident had to do with the death of a youngster. Everyone sympathises with the loss of a child in whatever circumstances. Many Barbadians do not know what happened in the house of the Bjerkhamns that day but a child is dead and this could throw up a situation of mere accident, manslaughter or even murder. We do not know and it is certainly not the point of this piece to speculate on the circumstances.

The issue that concerns a number of Barbadians is process. In the first situation the Police should have been present at the time of the incident in Parliament. They should have been there because it is the practice that they should be there to protect all those visiting and working in the Parliament. The alleged offence was never investigated in order to determine whether or not charges should be filed. In the Bjerkhamn episode the Police delayed in filing any charges and then the public was informed that the suspect (forgive us if that term is not appropriate) had left the island by private jet. Well some argue that he was not charged so he could leave. Many a young male in Barbados have expressed the view that they would never have been allowed to go to their child’s funeral.

What is it that the ordinary Barbadian is concerned about? Individuals can relate incidents where simply because they were present at an incident they were charged and held over night. Even though one would not recommend this approach as the norm, the approach taken to these two incidents must suggest that there is some inequality of treatment. These are not only legal matters they are societal matters. A cursory glance at our newspapers would suggest that it is only working class Barbadians and tourists that are ever involved in the drug trade whether as consumers or retailers.

Are Barbadians being treated equally under the law? These are questions similar to those that were raised in the USA Civil Rights movement. Yet in 2010 Barbadians wonder if there is still anything to fight for, whether there is still some noble cause. Well there is!! While there has always been a suspicion that there is inequality of treatment, these two incidents seem to confirm what had been suspected for a long time. The leadership in the country needs to provide us with some explanation. It would be unwise to allow these feelings of inequality to fester in the breasts of our people for too long.

Manning removes MPs

19 Apr

Some people are asking what Patrick Manning has against Penny Beckles, the incumbent from Arima. He offered her a diplomatic posting in order to withdraw from the race in the upcoming election. She refused and the PNM is not running her. But this is not the first time that Manning had asked this particular candidate to stand down. Also this is not the first time that Manning has removed incumbents. He did this in the run up to the last election and arguably he was successful. Can he do it again?

Apparently one of Ms. Beckles’ sins is that she made positive comments about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s elevation to Leader of the Opposition. The two are women, colleagues as lawyers and are contemporaries. How could Ms. Beckles’ have said anything else.

These are the issues that parties try to sort out in time for elections without too much fall out. In Barbados it would be difficult for anyone to try to remove an incumbent, unless there is pretty much a consensus that the individual has lost the support of the members of the Constituency.

In Barbados it will be interesting to see how the alleged gun incident involving Dale Marshall and David Estwick plays out. Is it possible that Dr. Estwick might be asked not to run in the next election?

New Party in TT Elections

18 Apr

Election Day is Monday, May 24, 2010, in Trinidad and Tobago. Nomination Day is Monday, May 3. (See Barbados Today, Saturday, April 17, 2010).

It has become clearer that the United National Congress (UNC) and the Congress of the People (COP) are finalizing an election accord of theirs in time for this general election.

We have also got word that Mr. Yasin Abu Bakr and the Jamaat Al-Muslimeen group of Trinidad and Tobago are forming a party to contest this election.

Well, so, let the campaign begin.


Barbados Media: make, break or ignore

13 Apr

These seem to be the options that the media currently have before them in Barbados. There are those that would argue that the media has an exceptional role to play in the political development of Barbados. In Barbados there are two newspapers, two radio stations and one television station that have enough reach to disseminate the messages of politicians to the people of Barbados.

Barbados has seen the advent of what are called “call-in programmes”. These programmes started out with the notion that the voice to the ordinary people of Barbados. It is clear that the owners of the radio station with the most popular “call-in” programme has allowed it to be hijacked by people who were not only expressing their personal views but that were scripted by political parties. Now one might argue that this is politics afterall and that all parties in Barbados could have their own scripts prepared. This is of course not the same position with respect to the moderators who have in recent times declared their party affiliation. Allegiance is not of the view that the members of political parties should not be moderators, however it is of the view that these individuals should declare their party affiliation. This becomes necessary in the name of transparency, which they themselves say they wish to promote.

The lone television station in Barbados has been over many years used as a tool in order to promote Government projects. There is however now a blurring between what can be defined as the promoting of Government projects and what are being considered “political broadcasts”. The showing off of Government’s accomplishments has always been the great advantage that politicians in Government have. There must however be some concern expressed if these broadcasts are used for direct canvassing purposes, thereby amounting to political broadcasts.

The Internet has now provided a means by which concerns can be expressed by some of the smaller political parties as well as by individuals. However it is clear that these avenues are not as far-reaching as the traditional media – not as yet any way.

Much depends on whether the media in Barbados believes that it has a duty to be fair and balanced. Individuals in senior positions in media houses in Barbados have expressed their liking for one politician or the other and has openly supported them using the media house. This admission seemed to have given them the ultimate justification for giving their “favourite politician” more coverage than the opposing candidate. Certainly there must be something fundamentally wrong with this approach to journalism. Going down this slippery slope our “independent” pollster Peter Wickham has identified his preference for the political leadership in Barbados.

Barbados media has a long way to go in giving everyone a fair shake, but we know that improvement in the media is a part of the developmental process in which this country must engage. So perhaps we need to give them some scope to grow. We hope that they will do better in the future. It is critical to our democracy – balanced coverage and access by all parties is what is being demanded.

What’s the Manning Plan?

11 Apr

Trinidad & Tobago Parliament


The respective leaderships of the Opposition UNC and minority COP party are expected to buckle down to the final leg of unity talks in 72 hours, COP Chairman Roy Augustus said Friday. COP acting leader Wendy Lee Yuen said that the final segment of talks between both parties was expected no earlier than Monday. Lee Yuen spoke as COP leader Winston Dookeran and COP Deputy Leader Prakash Ramadhar were scheduled to arrive home on Friday night from India and the US, respectively.

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar also gave the assurance that she would arrange a meeting convenient to both parties regarding the unity issue after the COP leaders returned from overseas. “I will do every thing to ensure we have a one-on-one fight with the PNM for this upcoming election,” she said.

A number of people are already being tipped from both sides as “unity candidates” for various reasons. Lee Yuen said: “We are committed to this and there is no doubt this (unity arrangement) is going to happen.. There’s is a multi-pronged approach and talks are underway.” Augustus said he was more concerned about the foundations of the system than seats at this point. COP’s screening process begins next week. UNC begins screening next Tuesday. (Trinidad Guardian) Taken from the Barbados Advocate, Sunday, April 11, 2010.

Against the backdrop of the above news story, we would like to say a few things about the decision of Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister to advise the President “to dissolve” the country’s Parliament – a mere two and a half years after the last General Election.

There are a number of issues that Prime Minister Patrick Manning must have examined in dissolving Parliament (i) Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has now made the UNC far more electable and is now basking in her new position as Opposition Leader; (ii) there is the UNC no-confidence motion against the government and (iii) the heightening of the perception amongst more and more Trinidad and Tobagonians that
Government’s management is worsening with violent crimes still high and corruption is still pervasive.

The convenient marriage between the UNC and the COP, and all that it brings with it, probably can attract more votes than the PNM. Remember that in the last General Election the UNC and COP combined got more votes than the PNM and Panday blasted Dookeran over that particular result!!!

Manning’s perception of the great threat posed to his party’s reelection bid by a unified UNC and COP partially explains the dissolution of Parliament. The question still remains as to why an election date has not been set as yet. The PDC however expects this to be announced within the next week or so.

Manning’s bid to deal directly with this threat – in one way – through the holding of general elections, will fail mainly because of the fact that the politics of Trinidad and Tobago has long been largely played out on the basis of race. The PNM is largely supported by the Afro-Trinidad and Tobagonians, and the UNC and COP are largely supported by the Indo-Trinidad and Tobagonians. The populations of these two major races are roughly the same. So, any cracks in either of these support bases would be caused by non-racial factors and also will have to be filled by resort to the race factor.

Thus, with Panday’s style of leadership of the UNC (abrasive and dictatorial), and which helped to cause Dookeran and others to form the COP, out of the way – it is felt by many UNC and COP supporters that it is in the best interests of the Indian race for both those parties and supporters to come together for Indians to regain their relative political dominance in the parliament and government of the country.

Manning does not seem to have a strategy for dealing with the UNC /COP amalgamation and hence has not set a date. He is adopting a “wait and see” approach to determine the reaction of Trinidad & Tobagonians to the unified party. The response of the media is especially important. It seems too that Manning is not ready for elections himself. The PNM’s candidate selection process is NOT complete.

However, it is non-sensical and outrageous that Prime Ministers within our English Speaking Caribbean still have this power to say when General Elections and by-Elections are to be held.

The PNM leader is NOT as confident as he was when he called the last General Election. His political mood and spirit is different. He seems more introverted and more subdued than then, and the tone of political language used by him at this stage is different – less inspiring, less up beat than then, and his tactics more determined by the UNC/COP and public sectoral pressure, NOT based on PNM political electoral strategy – it is like the General in an army taking learning lessons from the enemy. Not good signs for Manning and the PNM.

However, this delay in actually setting the date will cause greater political pressure on Manning as to the real or mock reasons why Parliament was dissolved.

A mere No-Confidence motion CANNOT cause a general election ( The Barbados Advocate, Saturday, April 10, 2010).
This Prime Minister would be rallying his troops, so to speak, and would be in a good position to defeat such a motion. Indeed, a No-Confidence Motion is a parliamentary political device sought and best used by the Opposition to offset or off balance a government The history of No-Confidence motions in parliaments in the English Commonwealth shows that they hardly succeed against governments or government ministers.

The decision of Manning to advise the President “to dissolve” Parliament, seems to have caught the UNC and the COP off guard though. This commitment of theirs to have a marriage in time for the General Election, has NOT gone very far beyond that commitment itself. In the above news story, just check what Bissessar is reported to have said and what Augustus and Lee Yuen are reported to have said too. Do they not seem confusing out of harmony out of step some what?

But it does seem that their being caught off guard is inconsequential since it will have little bearing on the next general election outcome in Trinidad and Tobago.

So, there you have it!!