Barbadian voters elect persons to represent their interests in Parliament. Therefore, persons seeking election should be both capable and willing to represent the public interest. Voters are responsible for judging the capabilities of the various candidates by reviewing their past achievements. If voters knowingly select the least capable candidates, then it is fair to conclude that the people got the government that they deserved – suck the salt and do not complain.
Voters cannot assess the willingness of candidates in a similar manner. It is entirely reasonable for voters to assume that since they are willing candidates, then they will also be willing parliamentary representatives. However, this assumption has not proven to be true.
Opposition parliamentarians and political scientists in Barbados have repeatedly explained to the public, that nationally important but unpopular decisions are being delayed until enough politicians qualify for their lucrative pensions. If this is true, then it would seem that the love of money was the root that tempted them into elective politics, rather than a willingness to serve. Well, good for them – but bad for the rest of us.
The parliamentarian’s pension was designed to ensure that those who qualify do not have to seek employment once they reach the age of 50. A charitable interpretation of the intent of this lucrative arrangement is that it allows parliamentarians to represent the interests of the public, without fear of the financial consequences that would normally affect their future earnings. An example may suffice.
An individual with knowledge of major corrupt practises in the construction, or tourism or sugar industry, may find it difficult to gain employment after making the evidence public. The lucrative pension arrangement for parliamentarians allows them to be the conduit through which justice may be pursued, without them having to worry about the impact that their actions may have on their future earnings.
This intent is not being realised in Barbados. Parliamentarians frequently allege questionable behaviour by other politicians and companies. The police are available to determine whether any allegations can justify a charge, and the courts are available to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify an offense.
Perhaps someone can remind me of a single instance since our Independence, when a parliamentarian has ever represented the public interest by taking any evidence of such wrong doing to the police. What appears to be the norm is that politicians typically use the allegations to publically embarrass their political opponents and to smear companies.
Alleged evidence has been waved around at political meetings, made documents of the House, printed in newspapers, but never, to my knowledge, taken to the police. This appears reckless. If companies operating in Barbados have broken our laws, then there is a legal process to be followed, and it does not involve publically smearing them. Defamed companies are in an unfortunate situation. If they seek to clear their name through the Defamation Act, it may affect their business if the political party in question wins the next election. If they choose not to clear their name, then it remains forever smeared. That cannot be fair.
If politicians do not bring their evidence of wrongdoing to the police, then the security of the lucrative pension is not protecting them from the consequences of their heroic representation, but rewarding them for reckless behaviour. That cannot be proper.
This protection was necessary for representatives who confronted the financial interests that wanted to maintain slavery, restrict voting rights, suppress women’s rights, etc. However, such protection was not in place for those heroes. Parliamentarians passed this legislation to benefit only themselves after Independence, when the national battles for enfranchisement had already been fought and won.
The approximately 45-year experiment of rewarding politicians with lucrative lifetime pensions after a relatively short time in office has taught us some very painful lessons. The least of which is that politicians who have qualified for their pensions have no incentive to improve their behaviour.
The debates in parliament should be exemplars for us all. Instead, we must endure the almost constant disruptive and disrespectful cross-talk, the innuendo, and the pleadings by the Speaker for parliamentarians to behave themselves. At political meetings, where the Speaker is not present to restrain them, well … you already know.
Any other person who behaved in a similar manner would certainly damage their reputations and likely become unemployable. However, our pensioned parliamentarians appear oblivious to the damage that they do to their reputations.
Should parliamentarians receive a pension? Of course they should. However, how do we pay them an equitable pension while also removing this temptation that appears to so easily beset honourable men and women? Perhaps removing the lifetime arrangement, and making a reasonable contribution to their private sector managed Registered Retirement Savings Plans only while they are in office, may save them, and us, from themselves.