The judgment of the Barbados High Court in favour of two teachers who were sanctioned for participating in political activity in a past election has implications beyond their case.
In an independent article which can be found here, trade unionist and civil service regulations expert Caswell Franklyn explained that Alwyn Babb and Pedro Shepherd, two teachers in the government teaching service, were suspended under General Orders 3.18.1 for contesting the January 19, 2022 elections under a Democratic Labour Party ticket.
Mr. Pedro Shepherd is the immediate past president of the Barbados Union of Teachers having resigned the post to contest the 2022 general election.
First, the judgment puts paid to the notion that we do not have a constitution, an idea that has been propagated by a few vociferous individuals in the community for more than a year. We understand that for the purposes of bringing into being the 2022 Republic of Barbados, amendments were made to the original Independence Order of 1966.
However, a little commonsense should tell anyone that if something is amended it still exists albeit in the new amended form. Hopefully, that is enough to resolve what is a minor matter for those who have been led astray?
The second implication of the teachers’ legal victory is that our system of governance is very flawed. We understand the spirit and intent of the Barbados General Orders, an undated copy of which can be downloaded from the NUPW website here. Franklyn gives a brief history of the development of these regulations in the previously cited article.
Our reading of the INTENT of the those general orders is that they are designed to ensure that (a) government officers give undivided attention to their duties as civil servants and (b) that conflicts of interest in their respective sphere of governance are avoided. That is both commendable and desirable; for example, we do not want a government personnel officer to give an associate of the incumbent party a job for which he is not qualified.
But we all know that such malfeasances are precisely what happens in our society!
So while an officer cannot engage in what might be called “political activity” (which we all know really means “political activity for the other side”) it is apparently “acceptable” for him or her to be morally and professionally compromised by signing off on an inappropriate appointment of someone to a government position under the direction of a Minister.
For practical purposes, the civil service is the executive arm of government policy and therefore, it is a vital element of our system of governance. We know that because between elections, government continues to function. In that sense and to that extent, the civil service can be said to be independent of the political directorate in charge at any point in time.
However, precisely because it is the executive arm of government policy, the independence of the civil service can be just as mythical as the self-proclaimed independence of the judiciary not only locally but elsewhere in the world.
Ignorance is Bliss
It is quite obvious that there is gross ignorance of our constitution among the entire population and worse of all, among the people who should know it best – the so-called civil service. Why do we say that?
Chapter 21 of the 1974 constitution revision deals with assembly and association. As far as we can tell, nothing in the 2021 constitutional amendments voided, replaced or varied this section of the constitution. Section 21(1) and (2) the constitution has this to say:
While we are by no means experts in constitutional law, we can reasonably assume that the learned judge would have taken consideration of section (2) in forming his judgment on the case of the two teachers.
The burning question is this: why would a political directorate sit down and write regulations which are a violation of the constitution of Barbados? The simple and short answer is that most of us would not be any wiser because familiarity with the constitution has never been a requirement or a desirable under our educational system and indeed for employment under hiring procedures in government!
It is quite unlike the American educational system which, for all of its other shortcomings, require citizens to have a working knowledge of the country’s constitution at different levels of education.
Here in Barbados, the attitude seems to be that the constitution is matter for legal experts not for “us” the hoi polloi, never mind that outside of the power of the Supreme God, the constitution is the document under which we move and breathe and have our social being.
Therefore, one should view an understanding of the Barbados Constitution as a facilitator of meaningful political participation rather than an impediment to it. We are assuming, of course, that “meaningful political participation” is a desired goal of both politicians and the electorate alike!
Article by Dr. Aldon D. Tull