The awful stain of vote buying
Back in 1994, while a student in Jamaica, news reached that there was to be a no-confidence motion tabled in the House Assembly in Barbados.
“What?” I asked myself.
In all my history-taking, political eavesdropping and rum shop talk, I’ve never heard of a no-confidence motion. The very term suggested severe trouble in the running of the island’s affairs.
My economics lecturer at the time was quite taken by the notion that this might be a real possibility in the land that stood out in the region as a leader in the democratic process.
Should it succeed, he reasoned, it would be a true testimony to Barbados’ regard for democracy and also spoke to the civility of its people.
This particular lecturer had long held a fascination for then Prime Minister Erskine (now Sir Lloyd) Sandiford and the man at the centre of the historic parliamentary vote. If for no other reason – and this was the only one he disclosed to the class – he was bewildered by Sandiford’s audacity while dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
How was it that a small island like Barbados could dare tell the IMF “no devaluation!”. He explained that the very set-up of the IMF was intimidating, designed to make visitors to that corridor cringe at the very thought of having to approach.
But you must also see it from his perspective, he was a Guyanese who was living and working in Jamaica.
Saying no to the IMF was unheard of, even by the powerful nations. So what made Barbados so special that it could say no and no it would be?
One day, we might find out.
His positive view of Barbados was echoed throughout several courses I was studying at the time. Whenever there was an example of good governance or management, Barbados was cited.
In education, no one could beat our high literacy level or the visionary decision to make education free. In telecommunications, students could not believe we had islandwide coverage and paid a monthly charge no matter how long we spoke on the telephone.
On infrastructure, they admired the ABC Highway, the health care and water systems. In cricket, Sir Garry’s name came up over and over, though that year, his record of the highest individual score of 365 fell to Brian Lara.
Each time there was discussion, I was sure that Barbados’ flag would fly high and in most cases, it was outsiders who were making the observations.
I often sat back and beamed and, on occasion, it bordered on gloating.
Overall, the perception was that the good people of Barbados enjoyed a standard of living that was second to none and over and above all they were a peaceful lot.
It was all put down to good governance that placed people at the centre of every decision made by the administration.
That is why it bothered me tremendously when reports of vote buying surfaced during the recently concluded general election. Both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party were accused of the breach of our democratic process.
How obsessed are we with power that we are willing to compromise standards?
The authorities said they did not find any evidence of the breach.
I don’t know how deep the vote buying investigation went since the declaration came just days after the election results.
Vote buying at any level is to be condemned even if it takes the form of corporate sponsorship. Fellow columnist Richard Hoad made the point – as I understand it – that there are two types of vote buying: there is the case where businesses or organizations make donations in hopes of a quid pro quo once the party is successful and then there is the more frowned upon paying the average voter for his “X”.
The difference here is that the voter receives his compensation instantly whatever the outcome but the corporate sponsor’s returns may be delayed in some cases by five years.
The level of charges flying back and forth by both parties would indicate that something was amiss this time around. I dare say at this point that the mutual vote buying might have levelled the playing field.
But suppose that was not the case. It should never be that the party spending the most money on vote buying or other treats will prevail.
The vulgar brandishing of money or other enticements have a way of turning a proud people into a greedy uncaring nation.
• Antoinette Connell is the DAILY?NATION?Editor. Email [email protected]