IN the recent weeks the National Television Network (NTN) has been airing a series of discussions on constitutional reform that we would like to commend to the population of St Lucia at large. We spend a lot of time in sterile debate about matters of little consequence and not enough on issues which are intended to shape us and our country.
The “Discourse” series is lively and educational. It comes in the wake of the promise of the present government, made during last year’s general election campaign to “re-visit the Constitution Commission’s report and through a process of national consultation seek to pursue those aspects of the report on which there is consensus”.
It will also be recalled that in her last Throne Speech nearly a year ago under a Labour Party government, the Governor General had announced plans to re-open the Constitution Reform Commission Report for public dialogue, the aim being to arrive at consensus on recommendations for the reform of the constitution. It seems therefore that there is agreement from both our political parties for the new round of discussions that has started and hopefully, will continue.
Lest we forget, this report—prepared by a Commission that was headed by the late Justice Suzy d’Auvergne—has already gone through parliament and has been approved, although there were reservations about certain issues on both sides of the political divide.
It pleases us greatly that we have reopened the debate on constitutional reform for the very simple reason that there are issues that continue to arise in our country that require change in the way they are handled. We will never stop making the point—and we hope the political parties never forget it either—that in the widespread consultations that the Constitution Commission held with the people of St. Lucia it became crystal clear that St Lucians were not happy with the way they were being governed and wanted change.
It is 13 years since the work of this Commission was first mooted and it will soon be four years since the debate in parliament. We were happy to see that in its election manifesto the now ruling party went as far as identifying those of the Commission’s recommendations on which there was consensus by the political parties. Among them were the right to recall parliamentary representatives; a fixed date for general elections; a limit on the number of terms a Prime Minister may serve; the financing of election campaigns and Integrity in public life. The ruling party is also known to have strong views on the delimitation of constituency boundaries –a political sore point in St Lucia over the years–and has promised to implement the recommendations of a 1998 Commonwealth Secretariat report on the matter.
The sad thing is that the quality of political culture is changing in countries all over the world. Look at the ongoing turmoil in no other place than the mighty United States. The institutions that once shaped the democratic process are being violated almost with impunity, especially by governments. Our immediate neighbours in the OECS have not been spared from this attack on the very fundamentals that were intended to guarantee democracy and an orderly way of life for our people.
It makes no sense talking about democracy and doing nothing to guarantee and enhance it. We in St Lucia have a golden opportunity to break out of the box and begin to chart a new course. It is our hope that collectively, we will grasp it.