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THERE is an amazingly widespread and frankly alarming lack of knowledge of how the wheels of governance turn and of the parliamentary processes involved in the making of our laws.
This past week, Barbadians saw banner headlines which seemed to suggest that the former administration in the 1990s was secretly preparing a draft republican constitution.
One asked: SECRET LAWS?
Prompted me to wonder: what are secret laws? How and where would they be passed, and more importantly, enforced?
Playing catch-up, the other newspaper declared: SECRET DRAFT.
This was sparked by a revelation from lawyer Hal Gollop during a panel discussion on whether Barbados should become a republic that he had been part of a team engaged to rewrite the Constitution.
Others were the distinguished constitutional scholar Sir Roy Marshall, his colleague, UWI lecturer Professor Simeon McIntosh, and Keith Patchett, one of the drafters of the current Constitution.
Gollop’s statement apparently caught some of his fellow panellists by surprise.
“That’s news to me,” UWI political scientist Cynthia Barrow-Giles was reported as saying. “I’m a little shocked by that.
“These are good people, but the fact is that we don’t know . . . that that kind of development is actually taking place in private.
“And for somebody who believes in direct democracy and the participation and the right of people to participate in the process, I’m concerned about what appears to be a sort of a backdoor sort of thing.”
Barrow-Giles expressed fear that what she said happened prior to Independence had been repeated.
“That’s a problem for me in relation to Barbados, because the Barbados Constitution, the 1966 Constitution, was also drafted in private.
“So the Constitution again is being drafted in silence, in private, by a few persons skilled as they were.”
Another report said moderator, Starcom Network’s David Ellis, agreed and questioned the “private” writing session, saying such developments should have been made public.
“You also have to alert the public that this is what you’re doing and what opportunities they will come to have a say in it.”
Gollop responded: “I don’t quite support the view that the drafting of any constitution took place in secrecy, because the drafting of a constitution is an academic exercise.”
He contended, however, that despite a few persons being selected to draft the document, there was input from Barbadians far and wide.
“One has to consider what preceded that exercise, and there was a prolonged Constitution Review Commission (chaired by Sir Henry Forde) that went the length and breadth of Barbados, went to England, all sorts of places to get the views of Barbadians about what they would like to put in a Constitution.
“So that the drafting of the constitution by however many people in a private place is not something one should look at in exclusion from what took place before that attempt at drafting.
“I do not agree that nobody knew what was going on because there was a raging debate across the length and breadth of Barbados about moving towards a republican state.”
A couple of issues arise, quite apart from the wide canvass of the Forde Commission. They relate to the notion of the draft being done “in private” and the inferential possibility that those eminent legal scholars would put their international reputations at risk by agreeing to serve any government anywhere in producing a revised constitution to achieve an objective that had not been widely canvassed.
First is the concept of “in private”.
Where would they be expected to prepare the draft? At a town hall meeting? Or in Independence Square, with 300 people? There can be nothing secret about the preparation of legislation except perhaps the Budget and even then that’s only “confidential”.
Secondly, it is to my certain knowledge that this group had the benefit of the experience and knowledge of the late Clerk of Parliament George Brancker, who is acknowledged as one of the finest and most respected authorities on constitutional and parliamentary matters in the Commonwealth, and a lamented friend and informed source on these matters for over 30 years.
These men, and I can speak personally of Brancker, would not likely be involved in any kind of political skulduggery, especially to put on the line their carefully cultivated and guarded reputations.
It behooves academics and other professionals if they are going to make a presentation to the public to be properly prepared and avoid what could be interpreted as a conspiracy theory approach which suggests a lack of thorough understanding of these matters.
Bottom line is there are and can be no secret laws in Barbados.
And a secret draft? That’s best left alone!
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org