“A Constitutional Monarchy means that the highest office in the land is beyond politics. It denies ultimate power to politicians and helps to keep political power under check. Our impartial umpires, the Governor-General and State Governors, keep the politicians honestâ€¦” – Excerpt from Australians for Constitutional Monarchy www.norepublic.com.au
I was in Trinidad week before last having lunch with my son Kevin at my favorite Polynesian restaurant. An old friend, an eminent Trinidadian leader with Barbadian connections, pulled up a chair to say hello. Whenever, we meet inevitably he will ask ‘How are things in Barbados?’ This occasion was no exception, but he went on to refer to the intense Republican Status debate which was taking place in Barbados and to express surprise that the Barbados Government, of all governments, was seriously espousing a policy of Republican status.
Implicit in his remarks was a complimentary gesture which begged the question ‘why disturb the status quo?’ – bastion of Caribbean democracy, demonstrated political stability, relative economic success, exemplary human development index performance and, more recently, winner of the bid to host the final of the first cricket World Cup to be held in the Caribbean.
I returned to Barbados to hear the Prime Minister, referring to the very spirited debate by the public on republican status, say ‘I trust that this spirit of democracy, central to which is the right of the people to express themselves freely and fearlessly and to participate fully in all the decisions which affect their lives, will always prevail in our land’. Later in his speech he said ‘Later this year a Bill to amend the constitution to give effect to the various and sundry recommendations of the Forde Commission will be introduced into Parliament. In advance of any such change and in keeping with our commitment to the people, we propose to hold a referendum specifically on the change from the Monarchical to the Republican system of government’.
The Prime Minister, before concluding his address to the Nation, went on to say ‘I wish to call upon all Barbadians to join us in supporting a cause that is so vital to our national development’. However, he did not go on to explain why it was vital to our national development. In my opinion, the key issue is not so much whether the Head of State is a Monarch or not but that the highest office in the land is beyond politics.
The Australian Government held a similar referendum in 1999 on a change from constitutional monarchy to republican status and the people opted to retain the status quo.
As many commentators have pointed out, in contemplating a change to Republican Status, the discussion must include, not only how we choose our Head of State but also, what our rights are under the new constitution. There seems to be a dearth of information on the recommendations of the Forde Commission. In the absence of this information I propose that the following issues be included in the referendum so that a clear mandate can be given to the government: (1) Should the selection of Head of State, the highest office of the land, be beyond politics? (2) Should the tenure of a Prime Minister be limited to two consecutive five year terms? (3) Should the Speaker of the House of Assembly be beyond politics? (4) Should the membership of the Public Accounts Committee be beyond politics? (5) Should the membership of the Senate be beyond politics?
The desired character (the qualities built into an individual’s life that determine his or her response regardless of circumstances) of the Head of State, should be delineated by the social partners. Individuals possessing these characteristics should be nominated by social partners and the Head of State elected by the people.
Waking up every morning as Prime Minister of a country is a major responsibility which we should not inflict on a single individual for more than ten consecutive years. If the tenure were limited, even if one party remained in power for more than two consecutive terms, succession planning would be self imposed.
If the Speaker of the House is a sitting member of the House on the Government side, then there could be considerable conflicts in terms of impartial ruling from time to time.
The Public Accounts Committee should consist of appropriately skilled professionals, not sitting politicians, including ex-officio civil servants from the Accountant General’s department, the Auditor General’s department, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Barbados.
The composition of the Senate is: party in power 12 seats; independents recommended by the Head of State 7 seats; and opposition party 2 seats. The Senate is therefore a virtual rubber stamping body for legislation passed by the House of Assembly. The party political seats are filled with those who have been unsuccessful at the polls or are aspiring politicians and they are tempted to use the senate debating opportunity as a campaigning platform rather than an occasion for high level debate in the interest of the people.
If we choose to become a Republic, then we must ensure that our Head of State is beyond politics. We must also ensure that our constitution provides for the key controls within our system to be beyond politics.