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Panel calls for Houses reform

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Panel calls for Houses reform

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Have a vote for “national Members of Parliament (MPs)”.
?Appoint a Speaker of the House of Assembly from outside the list of MPs.
Make it mandatory for Government ministers – including the Prime Minister – to present themselves to Parliament at certain times to answer questions from any MP “on any issue” related to his or her portfolio.
These are some of the suggestions which were made yesterday when Government and Opposition politicians and a panel of political analysts discussed the Role And Relevance Of Parliament To A Changing Barbados as Parliament celebrates its 375th anniversary.
Host David Ellis and analysts Dr Tennyson Joseph and Reudon Eversley were joined by guests – Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley and head of the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) David Comissiong – on Starcom Network Inc.’s Brass Tacks Sunday.
The proposal for a national MP came from Mottley.
She explained: “Rather than making constituencies smaller, you should have something called a national Member of Parliament, where you have another eight or ten or 11 persons, whatever the number is, where people when they go to vote for their constituency MP, vote also for national Members of Parliament.”
According to her, “it then allows for other people, including people who are independent, to put their names forward to add to the quality of debate and also to be able to be a larger pool from which the executive can be drawn”.
Reacting to the suggestion to change numbers in Parliament to permit the institution to carry out additional functions, Comissiong said: “I have long thought that you could accomplish this by getting rid of the Senate.
“I don’t think that the Senate, as currently structured, plays any vital role in the lawmaking process and I think it would make more sense for Barbados to have a unicameral Parliament that has an expansion of numbers.”
He called for “serious constitutional rethinking and reform”, complaining that “we have behaved over the years as if this system [of governance] that our British colonial masters left us is somehow some immutable, God-given system that we can’t sit down and think through and make modifications to”.
??Concise documents
??Lashley said that the Sir Henry Forde and Sir Mencea Cox constitutional commissions had produced “two concise documents” that could form the basis for improving the system of governance, but “hardly any of these recommendations have actually been put into place”.
“We need to take small steps at this stage,” he said. “Much of the reform that we need in terms of our Parliament, how it functions, can be done by looking at our [parliamentary] Standing Orders and a review our Standing Orders has been talked about. I think we can start there.”
He also suggested having a Speaker appointed from outside the group of MPs, charging that “we do waste a Member of Parliament by placing him in the Speaker’s chair”.
Lashley also reported that Government was “moving to establish a National Youth Parliament”, a development intended to increase young people’s participation in the democratic process.
The parliament would be “taking shape” as part of the 375th anniversary celebration, he said.
Eversley suggested the Barbados Parliament follow other countries and have a regular “question period” where any minister could be brought to the House and questioned by any MP on issues related to his or her portfolio.
He also called for more vibrant parliamentary committees supported in their work by a cadre of professionals.
Joseph spoke of the impact of new technology on democracy and the House. “Parliament might become a little obsolete in the sense that in the old days you assumed that the parliamentarian had more information than you,” he said.
“He was more articulate than you. He was better educated and so on and so forth. None of those premises hold now . . . . “The rationale for representative politics, we have moved beyond it and we now need to look at ways of becoming more participatory.”  (TY)