Saint Lucians have spoken loudly against the way they are being governed and have called for drastic changes starting with a break in the constitutional link with Britain.
Their suggestions for change are among the 190 recommendations of the government-appointed Constitutional Review Commission whose report was made public this week.
The Commission was appointed following passage of a resolution in the House of assembly in February 2004. Headed by the late Justice Suzie d’Auvergne, its mandate was to “review and reform the Constitution of Saint Lucia in order to encourage effective governance, to ensure that the institutions of State remain strong and responsive and that the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all persons are respected.”
Some of the Commission’s recommendations include:
*The present Saint Lucia Constitution should be repatriated and the constitutional monarchical system should be abolished and replaced with a republican constitutional system.
*Discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable and marriage should continue to be between a man and a woman
*Capital punishment should be retained and The Caribbean Court of Justice should replace the Privy Council as Saint Lucia’s final appellate court and entrenched in a new Constitution, so that it is afforded similar protection as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the domestic legal system.
*No person should be appointed to the office of Prime Minister for more than three consecutive five-year terms. Where a Prime Minister has served for three consecutive terms, he/she may return after a hiatus of five years.
*The system of elected Local Government in Saint Lucia should be re-established.
*The island should embrace the current global trend of creating a regulated environment for political parties and elections campaign financing.
*A Political Party and Elections Campaign Finance Act should be enacted which would among other things provide for a system of both private and public funding.
*The new Act should require full disclosure of all the financial contributions made to political parties. Non-disclosure should therefore be an offence.
*Political parties should declare their assets and liabilities.
The 23 member-team began its work in June 2006. Its final report to the government is dated March 2011.
In carrying out its mandate the Commission consulted widely with the people of Saint Lucia, both at home and abroad. It sent small teams of two Commissioners to well known Saint Lucian communities living abroad, including St. Croix and St. Thomas, in the USVI, Tortola and Virgin Gorda, in the BVI, Barbados, Martinique, New York, Washington, Toronto and London.
At the end of the assignment, the Commission said it emerged with “a renewed respect for the uncommon wisdom of average citizens; a genuine admiration for the remarkable Saint Lucian spirit, and the surprising knowledge of a remarkable consensus.”
This consensus, the Commission wrote, was that the so called “Westminster inheritance” in the Saint Lucian context “has at worst, not worked, or at best, been a double-edged sword.” But on the one hand, the Commission said it recognised an acceptance that transplanting a version of British democracy in Saint Lucia, had perhaps contributed to a level of stability and continuity in our system of Government, which was desirable.
It said it found “a reasonable consensus” among our people that what was perhaps appropriate for Britain with its large Parliament and relatively small Executive, guarded by hundreds of backbenchers, was somewhat inadequate in a country of only 17 constituencies and in which the near total domination of a small Executive over the Parliament, was virtually guaranteed.
“Put another way, we recognised a general agreement that the overwhelming concentration of power in the hands of a small Cabinet, was an unacceptable situation which cried out for change. In fact, the Commission observed a real hunger for constitutional change. It discerned restlessness with the status quo, which manifests itself in a pervasive, near universal discontent with politicians and politics alike. At the heart of this cynicism, we detected a widespread belief that our Constitution condemns us to a situation in which, our governments, once elected, seem beyond our ability to restrain or to influence”, the report said.
Citing some other concerns raised by the public, the Commissioners said saint Lucians bemoaned the lack of appropriate checks and balances on Cabinet authority, the lack of a real separation between the Cabinet and the Parliament, and the lack of real and measurable accountability, expected from a mature system of government.
The report went on: “In sum, the Commission gradually came to accept the fact that Saint Lucians appear to be dissatisfied with their system of government although this concern was not always expressed in the same way. For some, the problem was a lack of local government. For others, it was the lack of the ability to elect the Prime Minister directly, or the lack of a mechanism for recalling ineffective or dishonest parliamentarians, and for still others, what was required was the creation of new and super-powerful institutions to deal with abuses. For many, the solution was most or in some cases, all of these”.