EDITORIAL: Democracy more than elections
WHAT IS A MATURE or maturing democracy?
What should John Citizen expect from such a beast?
And what are the factors that would allow a population to recognise when it is operating in such an environment?
We ask these questions because we have some serious concerns about the path we are taking in a number of aspects of our national governance.
As a matter of fact, we are of the view that one of the major weaknesses in our model of governance is our repeated failure to engage the population when making important decisions.
It is quite easy in the current environment for those among us who see everything along political party lines to start talking about what the Barbados Labour Party used to do or did not do, and what the Democratic Labour Party is doing or not doing.
We prefer to pitch this discussion at a much higher level and talk about the benefits that can be derived from having mechanisms that almost automatically allow for the engagement of professional groups and individuals in the governance process.
We have spent far too many hundreds of millions of dollars since Independence on education to continue to consistently give the impression that somehow a small group of people with the label Member of Parliament will always know best.
This is even when it involves matters on which the individual has clearly never had a second thought over the years.
Take the current debate over the amendment to the law to abolish the automatic death penalty at the delivery of a guilty verdict by a jury hearing a murder case.
While the matter is the subject of debate in the House of Assembly we have an attorney, albeit a member of the Opposition, pointing out an apparent shortcoming that will potentially tie the hands of the judicial officer who will be charged with settling a major requirement of the amended law.
Our question is: Would our country not be better served by a system that required the publication of the proposed law as well as the giving of reasonable consideration to suggestions/proposals/concerns from Barbadians?
There was also the matter just a few weeks ago concerning an amendment to the law that some believe reverses, or at least negatively impacts on, the centuries-old right of an accused person to remain silent in the face of allegations of a crime.
Again, only when the matter was being debated in Parliament did the legal profession become aware of what was proposed.
Worse than this was the nationally broadcast spectacle of a member with no legal training literally dismissing out of hand the repeatedly expressed concerns of another who is a lawyer when he offered practical examples of what he had himself experienced while representing clients being held by police.
The amendment was passed with no apparent consideration of the concerns.
A third, and unrelated, example stemmed from complaints of Warrens residents of a weeks-old commercial operation besides their homes, and the announcement by the businessman involved that change-of-use permission had been granted and he was within his rights.
Again we ask, are we not mature enough as a democracy to require automatic notification and hearing of some sort when land adjoining a residential district is being changed from being zoned as residential to commercial?
There are too many instances in the way we conduct business that ought to be modernised and the voice of the people sought – and considered. Democracy, contrary to what some seem to believe, is not just about elections.