Government and Politics

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

The Governmental System

At independence in November 1966, Barbados formally adopted the Westminster parliamentary system of government, with a governor general representing the British monarch. Rights and privileges accorded to the governor in 1652 by Britain formed the basis for the Constitution of 1966, which provides for a bicameral parliamentary system headed by a prime minister and cabinet.

Under the Constitution, Parliament consists of the British monarch, represented by the governor general, the Senate, and the House of Assembly. The governor general is appointed by the monarch and serves at the monarch's pleasure. Although the governor general must act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or one of its ministers, the governor general has considerable influence and is responsible for appointing judges, commissioners, and senators and for voting in the Senate if there is a tie. The governor general presides at all meetings of the Privy Council for Barbados, an appointed body whose duties include the right to review punishments and grant pardons.

Executive authority in Barbados rests with the governor general, the prime minister, and a cabinet of at least five ministers. The prime minister is by far the most powerful figure in the executive and within the cabinet. The prime minister chooses the cabinet ministers and may dismiss them at will. The cabinet, which is responsible to Parliament, is the principal instrument of policy and is charged with direction and control of the government, but the personality, style, and popularity of the prime minister largely determine the direction of government.

The Constitution provides for a House of Assembly of twentyfour members or as many as Parliament may prescribe. The number was increased to twenty-seven before the 1981 elections. Members are elected by universal suffrage and must be over twenty-one years of age. The leader of the majority in the House of Assembly is appointed prime minister by the governor general. The minority leader becomes leader of the opposition. The term of office is five years, but elections may be called at any time by the ruling party, and an election must be called in case of a vote of no confidence. During the first twenty years of Barbadian history, all of its governments remained in power until the five-year limit.

The Senate is a wholly appointed body. Senators must be citizens of Barbados over the age of twenty-one; twelve are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, two on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining seven at the governor general's discretion. The Senate elects its own president and deputy president and has a quorum of eight plus the presiding officer.

Bills may be introduced in either house with the exception of money bills, which must be introduced in the elected House of Assembly. A bill becomes law after it has passed both houses and has been signed by the governor general.

Barbados' judiciary includes the Supreme Court, which consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The chief justice is appointed by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition; the other judges who make up the court are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Judges serve until the age of sixty-five; in case of vacancies, the governor general has the authority to appoint acting judges who serve until the appropriate consultations have been made. Appeals from decisions made by the High Court may be made to the three-judge Court of Appeal. The highest appeal is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Under the Constitution, a number of public service commissions- -including the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, the Public Service Commission, and the Police Commission--oversee government acts. All of the commissioners are appointed by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Political Dynamics

Since independence in 1966, responsibility for organizing the government has been almost evenly divided between the two major Barbadian parties, the DLP and BLP, which are both centrist social democratic parties with roots in the British labor movement. Although the BLP is perceived as somewhat more conservative than the DLP, there has been relatively little ideological difference. Both parties strongly support private enterprise, but both have undertaken large public works as a necessity in a country where unemployment ranges between 15 and 20 percent. In foreign policy, both the DLP and the BLP have endorsed and coordinated regional integration initiatives. Since the 1960s, party differentiation has been mainly in style and rhetoric and in the personalities of the leaders.

During the first twenty years of Barbadian independence, the DLP and BLP each ran the government for ten years. The DLP, with its founder, Barrow, as prime minister, was the majority party from 1966 to 1976 and was returned to power in 1986. The BLP was in power from 1976 to 1986 with J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams as prime minister until his sudden death in office in 1985. After Adams's death, H. Bernard St. John became prime minister until the DLP victory in the May 1986 election. In June 1987, a year after resuming the post of prime minister, Barrow also died; thus, in the short space of twenty-six months Barbados lost the two party leaders who had run the country since 1961. Barrow was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, a member of the House since 1971 and the holder of a number of ministerial portfolios under two previous DLP governments.

Barrow, who has been called the "Architect of Independence," led the DLP from its inception in 1955 until his death in 1987. After having completed a term as premier (the preindependence title for prime minister) from 1961 to 1966, Barrow and the DLP were elected to a second five-year term on the eve of independence in November 1966. Barrow had instituted many programs in his preindependence term of 1961-66 and continued them throughout the DLP governments that lasted until 1976. Barrow's achievements included free secondary education and school meals and many capital works programs, especially public housing projects. Under his government, the Barbados economy diversified by encouraging tourism. Barbados joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) in 1968, continuing its efforts to achieve some regional integration, and later joined Caricom, the successor to Carifta.

During Barrow's third term (1971-76), the Barbadian economy suffered from oil price increases and the international energy crisis. Unemployment increased, and there was increasing worker dissatisfaction. In 1976 the BLP, under the leadership of Tom Adams, won the election, gaining seventeen out of twenty-four seats in the House of Assembly. Adams was the son of BLP founder Sir Grantley Adams, Barbados' most prominent preindependence leader. Tom Adams was born in 1931 and, like both his father and Barrow, had won the Barbados Scholarship (to Oxford). He had earned two degrees in England and had been active in the British Labour Party. When Adams returned to Barbados in 1962, the West Indies Federation had dissolved and the BLP was a minority party. Adams went to work as honorary secretary for the BLP and in 1966 was elected along with his father to the House of Assembly. Adams became leader of the BLP in 1971 after BLP leader St. John had been defeated in the elections. In 1976 Adams led the party to victory and was elected prime minister after a campaign focusing on the rise in unemployment, inflation, and government waste. In his first term, Adams managed to cut unemployment nearly in half, increase per capita income and growth, achieve a balance of payments surplus for three years, and expand tourism. Because of the country's economic prosperity, the BLP government was reelected for a second term in 1981, winning seventeen out of twenty-seven seats.

Adams's second term was marked by economic problems and a major crisis in Grenada. Inflation had begun to rise again in 1980, and growth slowed down from its 1979 peak of 8 percent. This trend continued, and during the early 1980s GDP declined (see Economy, this section). The economic woes caused friction at home and with Caribbean neighbors such as Trinidad and Tobago, a traditional friend. In addition, the increasing size of the military forces in Grenada and the island's failure to hold elections caused consternation and division at the 1982 Caricom conference and precipitated the organization of the Regional Security System (RSS). The situation in Grenada reached a crisis in October 1983. Adams's strong support of the United States-Caribbean intervention included sending Barbadian police officers to join the Caribbean Peace Force in Grenada and brought Adams and Barbados international attention (see Foreign Relations, this section; A Regional Security System, ch. 7). Although public opinion in Barbados supported Adams's actions, there was concern about the possible precedent set by military intervention. Adams continued to be a vigorous supporter of the RSS until his death.

Deputy Prime Minister St. John succeeded Adams as BLP prime minister in March 1985 and served in that capacity until the elections of May 1986. St. John had been a member of the BLP since 1959, a senator from 1964 to 1966 and from 1971 to 1976, a member of the House from 1966 to 1971, and had served as deputy prime minister during both terms of the Adams government, holding a number of ministerial portfolios during that time. St. John attempted to improve the economy and mend the relationships in the Caribbean that had been strained by the economic recession and the Grenadian crisis. With an eye on the 1986 elections, St. John promised tax relief, but he was unable to create a constituency during his short time in office.

By the time of the 1986 election, unemployment in Barbados was about 19 percent. The election campaign in May 1986 was bitter and included accusations that the BLP was corrupt and racially biased in favor of whites and that it favored the middle class over the poor. The DLP promised to reduce taxes and lower the price of utilities and gasoline and also spoke of reducing participation in the RSS. The DLP was elected in a landslide, capturing all but three of the twenty-seven seats and sweeping out St. John and all but one of the BLP members elected in 1981. Barrow once again took the position of prime minister; Henry Forde, a former attorney general and minister of external affairs and the only BLP member elected in 1981 to retain his seat in the House, was named leader of the opposition.

On becoming prime minister, Barrow, in an effort to reduce unemployment, cut taxes substantially and increased public expenditures on roads and transport, creating a large fiscal deficit (see Economy, this section). Barrow continued his previous strong support for regional integration and his opposition to apartheid. During the campaign, Barrow had declared that he would reduce the Barbados Defence Force (BDF); however, Barbados remained in the RSS and took part in maneuvers with the United States and Britain.

On June 1, 1987, Barrow died of a heart attack and was succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Sandiford. The new prime minister had been a member of the DLP since 1964. Elected to the House in 1971, he was a cabinet minister in Barrow's third administration, a senator from 1967 to 1971, and was chosen deputy prime minister in 1986. Sandiford pledged to continue the policies of Barrow.

For more recent information about the government, see Facts about Barbados.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress