I wish to compliment the special advisor to the Prime Minister on Constitutional Review, Attorney Ms. Kim St. Rose for taking the initiative of returning the Report of Constitutional Review Commission to the public domain through hosting a series of live panel discussions on the National Television Network (NTN). I also applaud her performance and professionalism in moderating the programme. Attorney at Law, Mr. Andy George was equally professional and passionate about the need for Constitutional change as prescribed by the Report of the Commission. The presence of Prime Minister Allen M. Chastanet and the Leader of the Opposition, Philip J. Pierre, seated next to each other, was more than a Kodak moment or a selfie moment; it symbolized the spirit of statesmanship.
However, what could have been an eureka moment for Saint Lucia was squandered by both political leaders. As a first step towards constitutional change, they could have given a public commitment that they would get their whips of both sides of the House of Assembly and the Senate to vote in support of some of the recommendations of the Commission. The recent examples of referenda in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada have proved that the vote for a referendum that includes all and sundry recommendations is likely to fail. These recent experiences also proved that the vote is also likely to fail, if the political parties do not demonstrate consensus on the referendum.
During the discussion the Prime Minister could have given an undertaking to direct the office of the Attorney General to place a few Constitutional Amendments as high priority on the bills to be drafted. He could also have committed to tabling these amendments in the Parliament within a specified timeline, say, six months of the second session of this parliament. The Leader of the Opposition, too, could have committed to supporting the Prime Minister’s proposition. Among these amendments would include:
1. Fixed Date for Elections – I believe that this resonates with the people, as people are fed-up with the myth, mysticism, and surprise elements of election dates – be it Prime Ministers receiving letters from heaven with election dates, or bell ringing stunts. Most mature democracies have dispensed of this foolishness.
2. Term Limit for Prime Ministers – 10 years. We must continue to renew and refresh, like a river flowing through the valley from rainy season through the dry season to the next rainy season. There is no shortage of political and prime ministerial material in this land.
3. Head of State – What prevents us from severing this colonial vestige of Her Majesty the Queen of England, as our Head of State? We have the models of the Commonwealth of Dominica and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to emulate.
4. CCJ as Final Court – During the discussion, the Prime Minister intimated that the people must have access to justice. Can a broke country and the majority of people languishing in our correctional system afford an appeal before the Privy Council? Lack of access means justice denied.
I believe that the first three are rather innocuous and should easily find consensus between the political parties. This would avoid the high cost of staging expensive referenda campaigns particularly during this period of economic turbulence. Constitutional amendment requires two thirds majority. If there is consensus by the political leaders, it follows that there is a strong likelihood of consensus of both sides of the House.
The CCJ could be taken as a stand-alone amendment at a subsequent meeting of the Parliament, as this is a subject that requires mass education and ought to be debated at length.
I believe that such an approach would show good will by the political leaders and their respective parties. It would honour the will of the people and the memory of the Chair of the Constitution Review Commission, the late Madame Justice Suzie d’Auvergne.
Let’s oo it!!
Former Member of Parliament