Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s decision to allow Parliament to automatically dissolve on March 6 without announcing a date for general elections could be the first and last time that this constitutional provision is triggered here, should the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) form the next Government, according to a document believed be a leaked first draft of the BLP’s election manifesto.
The 52-page document, whose authenticity Barbados TODAY has yet to verify, but which political observers and commentators agree is likely a draft of the BLP’s platform, lists a number of sweeping changes in range of sectors, including health, culture, education and transportation.
Under the heading People have Power, commitments have been made for consultations on parliamentary reform, including a fixed election date, term and the right of the people to recall representatives whose performance is unsatisfactory.
“The empowerment of people is central to the mission of the Barbados Labour Party. Greater responsibility must be entrusted to our citizens and communities in ways that foster fairness and deepen democracy. Our vision for Barbados includes Barbadians and residents who are confident and knowledgeable enough about matters of state to contribute to civic and community development, and to national governance,” the document states.
“We will empower people to be full participants in the process of governance by . . . committing to consultation on parliamentary reform that looks at issues such as: term limits, impartial [House] Speaker elected by the Members of Parliament, right of recall, crossing the floor of Parliament, fixed date of elections and campaign finance reform.”
Also among the written promises was the pledge to give average citizens more say in the laws that govern them through the “practice of national referenda and people initiatives starting with a national vote on decriminalization of marijuana”.
The draft also contains proposals to fix the island’s ailing economy, many of which are consistent with recent promises made on the campaign trail, although there is no great detail on how a BLP Government would accomplish the list of broad measures.
Among the fixes for the dwindling foreign reserves, which tumbled to 6.6 weeks of import cover, according the Central Bank of Barbados’ report for December 2017, is “ending the printing of money that is threatening the Barbados dollar and draining the foreign reserves, by passing legislation to prohibit the Central Bank of Barbados from doing so”.
The BLP would also restore the foreign reserves to at least 15 weeks of import cover, according to the document, through policies that stimulate investor confidence, allowing Barbadians to benefit from the foreign currency tax credit on export earnings and allowing Barbadians to hold foreign currency earned through exports in banks accounts here, boosting the amount of foreign exchange brought into the country.
“Barbados’s economy is staring into the abyss. The first action of a new Government must be to pull it back from the edge with a set of strategic crisis measures. These will create sufficient breathing room, first to stabilize the situation, and thereafter to put workable, well thought-out plans in place to bring about the needed national transformation.
“Although we do not yet have access to all of the relevant national economic data, the Barbados Labour Party’s economic team has been working assiduously to prepare for the crisis intervention we know will be required as the first order of business of a new Government. Within the first 12 weeks of taking office, we will lay out our comprehensive recovery plan to the people of Barbados designed to treat to the most urgent issues,” the leaked policy paper stated.
The document spoke of reprofiling Barbados’ debt, but remained silent on whether or not this would be done by going to the International Monetary Fund or some other international lending agency.
However, it outlined plans for “using part of the savings from debt reprofiling and available concessionary finance for an immediate capital works programme to fix the south coast and Bridgetown sewerage plants, “acquire additional buses for the Transport Board and return garbage and rubbish collection to a high standard”.
Several initiatives for the vulnerable in society have also been outlined in the document, including a provision for helping people who need assistance to bury their dead by increasing funeral grants by $600, while tilting public procurement towards businesses run by economically disadvantaged sectors or community-owned groups.
Enabling widows under the age of 40 to draw the pension of a deceased spouse and working with the banks to establish a troubled mortgage relief programme to limit the foreclosure of homes, were also among the initiatives listed.