by ALBERT BRANDFORD POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
"No doubt by the traditional theory, as it exists in all the books, the goodness
of our constitution consists in the entire separation of the legislative and executive authorities . . . ." Walter Bagehot, British economist, social scientist, and journalist. The English Constitution (1867).
AS I LISTENED to Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley last Monday at the Hilton Barbados lamenting the domination of Parliament by the Cabinet, the cynic in me took over.
Bagehot had gone on to say "but in truth its merit consists in their singular approximation. The connecting link is the Cabinet".
So, there was Mottley, the number two in the Cabinet, complaining about the "marginalisation" of Parliament and making out a solid case for its restoration to the position of supremacy over a body for which it is now a mere rubber stamp.
My mind went back to a pledge by her boss, Prime Minister Owen Arthur,
nearly three years ago, after he too, had lamented the "marginalisation" of Parliament, and committed the ruling Barbados Labour Party to its restoration as the place to look for leadership, direction and role models.
He said that was one of two tasks of "overwhelming significance" for those MPs serving in the first elected Parliament of the 21st century.
"The first will be to restore our Parliament to its proper standing of pre-eminence, dignity, seriousness and respect and as the chief controlling influence over the affairs of this nation," Arthur told the BLP's 65th annual conference at Alexandra School.
He lamented having "come to see our House of Assembly drastically diminish in the interest that it should hold, in the importance and attention that its work evokes, and in the esteem that it now commands in the society".
Since then, very little has been done that meets the naked eye to make good on Arthur's commitment, and the cynic wondered at Mottley's concerns.
Her main argument during a presentation at the 31st Regional Conference of the Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) was the need to reform Parliament in which the Cabinet is now the largest single bloc, to allow it once again to act as a countervailing force to the work of the Executive.
"So while persons may not want at the domestic level to hear about increasing the size of Parliament," Mottley said, "the truth is that that increase, in fact, guarantees the democracy which we enjoy because it will allow Parliament once again to be the effective check and balance on the Executive."
Still, Mottley did not come right out and say there ought to, or would be, an increase in the size of the House of Assembly; but, politicians have perfected the art and science of "kite-flying".
Was she just flying a "kite", though?
As she rightly pointed out, when Cabinet government was introduced here from February 1, 1954, five ministers were appointed from a Chamber of 24 members, and since then the size and complexity of government have increased as has the way in which this country must meet its regional, international and hemispheric obligations.
You will recall that the House started with 16 land-owners in 1639 as the House of Burgesses (Assembly); when the island divided into 11 parishes in 1645, it went up to 22; and was increased to 24 in 1843 (when the new constituency of the City of Bridgetown was added) where it remained until 1981 when it went up to 27; then 28 in 1991; and up to 30 in 2003.
There is now an 18-strong Cabinet (two ministers in the Senate) with only 30 MPs in the House.
Clearly, we are in a position where the Cabinet makes a policy or legislative determination, as Mottley pointed out, and the House because of the sheer weight of numbers, carries it out.
There is absolutely no chance of the House, as currently constituted, refusing a Cabinet request, which makes the legislature not only subservient but beholden to the executive.
The bottom line, of course, is that it makes a mockery of our boast of having a "parliamentary democracy".
Rather, what we have, as Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford rightly pointed out, is "prime ministerial government" in which the holder of that office wields such power that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, of St Vincent and the Grenadines, was moved to describe it as a "continuing constitutional and political lunacy".
Be that as it may, we still have to look at a justification for increasing the seats in Parliament as one way of restoring its "dignity".
The constitutional formula has been to have constituency numbers not to "exceed 110 per cent nor be less than 90 per cent of the total electorate divided by the number of constituencies".
That was amended at the time of the creation of the last two constituencies (St James Central and St Philip West), to "115 per cent nor less than 85 per cent".
The 2002 Electoral and Boundaries Commission Report listed six constituencies above the range within which the electorate should fall: the two in St Philip, two each in Christ Church and St James South.
Barbados' demographics have been changing rapidly as residential and other developments have continued apace with some parishes receiving many more new residents than others.
It should surprise no one, therefore, if Government does not soon suggest, for example, a third riding for St Philip and St George respectively; a second for St Lucy; and the 11th for St Michael (plus The City) by carving up South East, North East and North.
One of the possible effects of such a scenario would be a reduction in the ratio of the Executive to MPs, which if combined with Mottley's magical "15 ministers" could go a long way towards restoring Parliament to its rightful place with full control over its "committees" of which the Cabinet is one.