Letters & Opinion

Boundaries Commission Report – Right?

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By John Peters

THE Constituencies Boundaries Commission Report raises a fundamental issue of our democracy, whether it should be embedded in selection or representation. Should there be equity in electors per constituency or should it be based on equity of population? I am of the firm view that democracy starts with equity in electors and thus as far as possible, each Member of Parliament is elected from an equal pool of voters. It cannot be based on equity of representation of population.

This Constituencies Boundaries Commission was established on June 2012 with five members, two each representing the two major political parties and with the Speaker as Chairman. There are three lawyers among the five members. The Commission drew its authority from Section 58 (1) of the Constitution of Saint Lucia, and proceeded in the execution of their task on the principles set out in Schedule 2 of the Constitution which sets out the guiding principles.

Schedule 2 says:
All constituencies shall contain as nearly equal numbers of inhabitants as appear to the Constituency Boundaries Commission to be reasonably practicable by the Commission and may depart from this principle to such extent as it considers expedient to take account of the following factors, that is to say:

a. The density of the population, and in particular the need to ensure the adequate representation of sparsely populated rural areas
b. The means of communication
c. Geographical features: and
d. The boundaries of administrative areas

On this basis the Commission looked at the Census Day 2010 numbers for the population and divided it by the present number of constituencies and got a figure of 9741 persons as the average number of persons that should be in each constituency if we maintain a total of 17 seats in Parliament.

Then there was a statistical analysis in which following scenarios were presented:
• 13 seats
• 15 seats
• 17 seats
• 19 seats
• 21 seats
• 23 seats
• 25 seats

For each scenario the analysis looked at how many seats will remain unchanged within a range of 20% and 10 %. It is here that the analysis becomes confusing. The Analysis is showing that at this time with 17 seats, there are only six seats that are in a reasonable range of the population average per constituency which equates to 35%.

The report then says that the northern region has the largest variance and thus it is a given that more seats must be created in the north, in parallel with this thought process, the \southern areas should remain the same. So whether Dennery South has a population of 4867 or Laborie has a population of 5845, there should be no changes to these boundaries. Ten constituencies are thus excluded from the analysis and the Greater Castries area becomes the centrepiece of the electoral changes.

Herein lies the confusion, if you look at the Election Results of 2011, it shows that Laborie has a total of 6,246 registered voters, and thus there are more registered voters in Laborie than the size of the population of 5845 as reflected in Table 5 (there is an error in the report). Dennery South has 4,563 registered voters with a population of 4897 persons, there seems to very little children in Dennery South. Central Castries has 9,252 registered voters and a population of 7,274 persons.

This significant discrepancy raises a serious matter as to whether the list of registered voters should be used as the platform for boundary changes, as it more accurately reflects the location of the population. The Commission must recognize that the spirit of the constitution was to create equity, and one has to dovetail that desire into our historical cultural practice of remaining registered in our community of birth. A man from Soufriere will live in Bonne Terre for 40 years and never consider himself a Bonne Terrrian. He will always have that attachment and desire to be part of the decision making process within Soufriere.

The same British system we have adopted bases the division of boundaries on electors and not population. The Boundaries Commissions in the UK are required to undertake a general review every eight to 12 years to ensure electoral equality, that is the sizes of the electorates in each constituency are as similar as possible. It is currently about 70,000 electors typically reflecting a total population of 90,000. Australia also has a system based on equality of electors.

We cannot create true democracy with the concept of equality in representation by population. I am unaware of what the Constitutional Review Commission Report says about this matter, but it certainly must be considered as we forge our future as a nation.

It would be a good exercise to subject the analysis using the registered voters list and to observe the changes that occur when the parameters of the analysis differ. So now we have 73,258 registered voters in the north being represented by 11 parliamentarians and 77,738 registered voters in the rest of the island being represented by 10 parliamentarians. In equity there is inequity. How ironic that the UK Commission would say that our entire population should have only Two Parliamentarians.!!

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