Prime Minister Mia Mottley says much thought has gone into the decision to transition Barbados to a parliamentary republic, even as Opposition Leader, Bishop Joseph Atherley, raised concerns over the legality of the government’s intended move, despite declaring full support for the impending status.
Parliament voted by a 25-0 margin to amend the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to bring the Republic into force by November 30.
Prime Minister Mottley told legislators that her administration was not rushing into republicanism and that talks regarding the transition began more than two decades ago.
“There can be no rush, therefore, about this Act. This Act has taken long in coming and if we go back, we agreed that there are aspects that are certainly worthy of consultation and that is the majority of the work that relates to the Constitution, we get that and we are committed to that.”
She described it as a “simple but functional bill” the constitutional amendment would revoke the Barbados Order of 1966 as an Order in Council of Her Majesty while keeping complete the Barbados Constitution.
The amendment makes provision for a Barbadian to be a Head of State, change the oath of allegiance from that to Her Majesty to now the state of Barbados and to ensure continuity in all of the other aspects of the functioning of the state of Barbados through offices, appointments and commissions.
“This has been a conversation that has been taking place since December 1998. The fact that I was part of the cabinet that agreed to the establishment of this Commission explains why I have so much grey hair now because it has been a long journey. It has been a long journey.
“Indeed one of my greatest regrets is that while there are a few who are still with us the majority of persons who served on this Commission and, in fact the Cox Commission, before have gone to the Great Beyond.”
The government said that the change would bring to an end a British head of state of Barbados ever since English settlers landed here in 1625 and claimed the island for King James I and Prime Minister Mottley maintained that the time had come for the transition as Barbados needed to be in complete control of all of its affairs.
She dismissed any notion that Barbados would change its name.
“This bill does nothing else but seek to make a Bajan the head of state of Barbados and is as simple as that because that is the lacuna that will take us from one point to another. By also revoking the Order in Council we make the clear statement that we want to be in control of our affairs as a Republic,” she explained.
She told legislators that together with Atherley they will make a joint nomination for the election of a president of Barbados and a date will then be set for that election and that she expects the process to take place this month.
Barbadians will also be notified as to when the new head of state would be sworn in.
But in his contribution, Atherley raised concerns over the legality of government’s intended move to republican status, despite declaring full support for the move
The Opposition Leader citing unnamed members of the legal profession, said the manner in which government was proceeding to move Barbados from a realm to a republic with a Barbadian Head of State could be unlawful.
Atherley said he was not attacking the government but merely wanted the transition to republican status to be done the right way.
Atherley also opposed the timing to become a republic describing it as “the wrong moment” as Barbados continued to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, questioning whether government had an alternative agenda in ensuring the transition was done speedily.
“Beyond the constitutional and legal arguments, it is a bad moment with COVID. It is not the right moment. We do not know what next year will bring, we may still be faced down with COVID. I would prefer to believe that by the middle of next year this thing would be gone.”
He also said the November 30 date for the transition was inappropriate as it could diminish the work of Errol Barrow, the Father of Independence.
He suggested that July 26, 2022, coinciding with the Day of National Significance that memorialises the 1937 Disturbances, would be most appropriate.