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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.


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.

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!!


New Look Parliament Website

29 Mar

Good news! The Parliament of Barbados has revamped its website to a more modern look and feel. In addition it now carries videos of the various presentations by members. Member of the public will also be able to see the parliamentary sessions live on the site.

The website strikes a stinging contrast with the behaviour of some members of the house in recent times. We know that the editors of the video must have had their work cut out for them!

Just how far does that privilege extend?

23 Mar

We agreed that part of our committment in setting up this site would be to keep an eye on developments in our Parliament especially the Lower House as this is where the elected representatives sit. Over the past few days there has been considerable commentary an incident which occurred in the precincts of Parliament at the core of which seemed to be the possession of a firearm.

The public has been waiting to hear from both sides of the political divide as to how this matter will be handled. The question has arisen as to whether the state through the Commissioner of Police has any role in the matter. If for example a gun were used in a threatening fashion, it would seem on the face of it to be a matter upon which at least a charge of assault could be laid.

Some have wondered if the police is in some way prevented from carrying out its responsibility in the same way that they would had this incident taken place on the “block” or elsewhere in Barbados. The answer would seem to be that there is nothing to prevent the law of the land from being enforced if there is enough evidence to support a charge. However it is also clear that if the victim of the assault fails to cooperate with the police that it would be difficult for any charge to be pursued successfully in a court of law.

If the Commissioner of Police will not take any action for the reasons discussed before, it would seem that the Speaker has a role in ensuring that the debates in Parliament can be conducted without any fear for one’s life. No doubt there are members of Parliament that would take the view that any action taken by the Speaker need not be shared with the public. What seems clear however is that there is a call from members of the public to know what actions are going to be taken.

Then we come to the Party leaders. If the parties are serious about the conduct of their members then they must ensure that there is a minimum standard. Engaging in assaults could certainly not amount to meeting a minimum standards. On this matter the Members of Parliament elected by the people of Barbados must determine how they will respond to this request for answers. At this juncture politicians stand to lose a great deal of respect from the people who have given them the privilege to serve.

How they placed … … a glance at the reshuffle

10 Mar

Cabinets are reshuffled for a number of reasons and we leave it to you to reflect on why the Prime Minister of Barbados has chosen to reshuffle his. Sometimes it is to reward performance or to penalise non-performance.
On the other hand completely, it could very well have to do with positioning incumbents and potential candidates in time for an election. As we said, we leave this for you to judge:

Donville Inniss: First Reshuffle: Minister of Health former Minister of State in the foreign ministry. Second Reshuffle: Ms. Sandiford-Garner gets a share of his portfolio.

Dr. David Estwick: First Reshuffle: moved from Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Empowerment, Innovation, Trade, Industry and Commerce. Second reshuffle: Mr. Todd given part of his portfolio.

George Hutson: First Reshuffle: portfolio reduced (Trade, Industry and Commerce) and became Minister of International Business and International Transport. Second Reshuffle: untouched.

Dr. Denis Lowe was Minister of Social Care now named Minister of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage. Second Reshuffle: Arni Walters becomes Chairman of the BWA with the power to report to Cabinet directly.

Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo’s: First reshuffle: lost part of her portfolio (the Environment), as well as responsibilities that had been assigned to the Ministry of Health (Water) and the Ministry of Transport, Works and International Transport (drainage). Second Reshuffle: given an even smaller portfolio – Labour.

Senator Maxine McClean: First Reshuffle promoted from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade from Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, with responsibility for immigration matters. Second reshuffle: untouched.

Chris Sinckler: First Reshuffle: removed as Minister of Foreign Affairs to Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Rural and Urban Development. This makes him responsible for both the Urban Development Commission (UDC) and the Rural Development Commission (RDC). Second reshuffle: Promoted to Leader of Government Business.

Ronald Jones Minister of Education: removed as leader of Government Business.

Stephen Lashley: New Minister of Family, Youth and Sports

A Third Party … …

5 Mar

No we are not talking about a fete! There is now talk in Barbados again about whether we need a thrid party. course this is often where the discourse goes when we are considering a new dialogue in the country.

Barbados of course has some experience with what can be described as third parties. In fact there are two that are functioning. We of course have the People’s Democratic Congress which is a regular contributor and truly seeks to bring an alternative form of Government. The People Empowerment Party is also another party that continues to be relevant in Barbados Politics. Before this we had the National Democratic Party. This party was born out of the Democratic Labour Party. There is also the Workers Party of Barbados which appeared to be radically different in terms of philosophy from the other parties.

One of the parties that was able to pull strong crowds was the People’s Pressure Movement but could not convert this into seats. Many that would say that these parties have failed to capture the imagination of the people. It is argued that it is more likely that existing parties would transform themselves; than the emergence of a third party.

There are countries where alternative parties have been successful in that they have been able to gain one or more seats in Parliament. There has been little evidence that there would be a good chance of this occurring in Barbados in the near term.

There is an argument that if people in Barbados perceive there to be some kind of vacuum that needs to be filled, it could not be filled by a thrid party created simply for that purpose. It is felt that a successful third party must have its own raison d’etre.

It would be surprising if a third party could emerge between now and the next election, but it is also said that two years is a long time in politics!

We would love to get some more insight into these “third parties”, their history and the impact that they had or are having on the Barbados landscape.