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Councils ain’t the real thing

Sanka Price

Councils ain’t the real thing

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CONSTITUENCY COUNCILS are neither fish, fowl nor good red herring. They are no more than picks for party supporters with a few independent individuals thrown in for good measure.
They are a travesty in the democratization process, which is needed to make average people feel they have a stake in the governance of this country.
I am fed up with reading about these so-called people’s assemblies reaching out to communities within their electoral boundaries and seeking to strengthen ties. Last year we were even treated to a number of them holding motorcades and walkabouts so constituents could meet the councillors.
If these councils were truly the representatives of the people then this type of courting would not be necessary. The majority of people would know who their councillors are, and the councillors would have some idea about the challenges of residents in particular districts for which they are responsible.
That’s why I say constituency councils stand for nothing.
They are primarily a mechanism to push the ruling party’s platform. And I anticipate they will be used to dole out assistance to vulnerable constituents in a manner that may influence how these people vote.   
Of course, I am not seeking to cast aspersions on any of the councillors per se, as many are noted public figures whose reputations precede them. But when you are part of a mechanism that was constructed with partisan intent, not even the sincerest efforts of the most well-meaning can change the fundamental flaws that exist in the organization.
That’s my take on these councils as they are presently constituted. What I’m saying should not surprise anyone. Both the definition of the councils and the method of appointment of the 450 councillors across the 30 constituencies demonstrate my point, once one factors in the reality of partisan politics.
According to the Government’s website, “a Constituency Council is a legally established body of local representatives, who have been appointed and given the authority to voice the concerns of the residents of the constituency; to maintain links with central Government and other agencies; and to effectively and efficiently manage resources for the development of the given constituency”.
If these community councils were really supposed to deepen democracy in Barbados and give people from all walks of life a voice at the local level they would never have been so established. This is truly a pity because the concept itself is a good one and would have truly ushered in government of the people, by the people, for the people.
What I’d like to see is elected constituency councils where people within each riding can vote on a list of nominated candidates every three years. The number of councillors would depend on the size of the population density of the riding. That is, the larger the population the more councillors, with a minimum of seven and a maximum of 12.
Also, no candidate would be able to represent a political party. We are not naïve; we expect people would have their particular loyalties. But this would not be allowed under the rules for this poll.
Each candidate would be allowed to present their programme in one to three specially convened town hall meetings depending on the size of the constituency.
The two major innovations I would introduce for community councils’ elections would be that all people living in the constituency 16 years and over would be eligible to vote. This would encourage the youth to recognize they have a stake in the development of their districts and, by extension, the country.
This approach would ensure real representation at the community level, especially where an opposition candidate is the parliamentary representative. This method would provide a genuine opportunity to get non-partisan candidates as councillors, thereby ensuring that independent and marginalized voices would also be heard.
The sad thing, though, is that what I’m proposing will most likely remain a dream because once politicians have a system in place that gives them an advantage, they rarely change it.