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OUR CARIBBEAN: Stuart’s silence

Rickey Singh, [email protected]

OUR CARIBBEAN: Stuart’s silence

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THERE REMAINS a deafening silence by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart over his failure (refusal?) to offer even a brief public statement on why, after month-long official activities to celebrate the country’s half-century of political independence, no indication could be offered on the vital political issue of the nation’s expected new status as a constitutional republic. Why?

What’s the basic problem? Political fear of the parliamentary opposition – Barbados Labour Party (BLP) – creating political mischief over this new constitutional status ahead of general elections due by 2018?

This cannot be. True, the BLP, under the current leadership of Mia Mottley, also remains deafeningly silent on the issue of Barbados’ transformation to a constitutional republic. In the current circumstances she, therefore, seems to have an obligation to also speak to this national issue.

There’s certainly no objection or even informal expression of the slightest reservation from Buckingham Palace over such a constitutional change. After all, former colonies of Britain, including those in Africa and Asia, have been routinely shedding the monarchical system of governance in preference for republican status with a national of the country being elevated as head of state.

The eminently respected Barbadian-born historian Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, currentvice chancellor of the University of the WestIndies, has made no secret of his deep disappointment over Prime Minister Stuart’s failure to move the country to the widely expected new political status as a constitutional republic with a Barbadian as head of state.

Addressing the issue at the launching ceremony of his latest book last week, Sir Hilary did not conceal his disappointment or anger in declaring: “My expectation is that Barbados will probably become the last country in this region to become a republic . . . .”

What a tantalising claim against the Government of the nation of his birth. Ironically, the title of Sir Hilary’s book is First Black Slave Society: Britain’s Barbarity Time In Barbados (1636 – 1876). It was released amid rising interest over the continuing public silence by both Mr Stuart and Miss Mottley on the issue of the nation becoming a constitutional republic.

After all, Trinidad and Tobago, under the dynamic leadership of then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, was quite ready to speedily move the country to the status of a constitutional republic. And so he did with the choice of a distinguished national as head of state, Sir Ellis Clarke.

Subsequently, Guyana moved to republican status, followed many years later by little Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, while other states in the subregion continue to cling to what the Stuart administration seems content to maintain – for as long as he thinks it necessary.

Meanwhile, in Trinidad and Tobago, which has often been the pacesetter on issues of political and cultural developments in our region, there remain legitimate concerns among Trinis and their CARICOM cousins over the country’s continuing engagement of Britain’s Privy Council as its court of last resort, in preference to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

It could be helpful should both Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, provide their respective responses, given their oft-stated claims on issues of political and cultural sovereignty. After all, Trinidad and Tobago is a founder-member state of the CCJ, which is headquartered in Port of Spain.

Further, it can easily point to a reservoir ofhighly qualified, home-based legal luminaries to deal with any case brought to its attention as this region’s court of last resort. So why should successive People’s National Movement and United National Congress-led administrations continue the colonial-era dependency syndrome in rushing to Britain’s Privy Council in preference to the CCJ?

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.