THE parliamentary debate on the Constitutional Reform Commission report has ended. The legislators have had their say and we wait for the next move. There have been suggestions that a sub committee be established to take the process forward, but no suggestions as to its composition, the nature of its assignment, or even timelines for its work have been put forward.
In winding up the debate on Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister made a solid point that this was an opportunity for St Lucia to craft a constitution “in our own image and likeness”. We couldn’t agree more.
We have listened to the debate. However, we do not share the view expressed by several speakers that the present constitution had served us well and all that was necessary was a tweaking here and there. Indeed, the people of St Lucia by the enormity of their submissions to the Commission made it very clear that this present constitution needs more than “tweaking” and the Commission endorsed that position when it said that St Lucians were looking for fundamental change.
The following passages quoted directly from the Commission’s report, and reflecting the views of the people of St Lucia, will illustrate the point: “This consensus is that the so called Westminster inheritance in the Saint Lucian context has at worst, not worked, or at best, been a double-edged sword”……”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”….. . “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”….. “it became increasingly clear that Saint Lucians regarded our Constitution as placing them in the role of window-shoppers, passively standing outside the store-front of government, looking in, hands pressed against the glass, but unable to influence decision-makers once an election was won. They collectively regretted their inability, except by the most indirect or diffuse means, to influence decision-making in ‘real time.’ They lamented the fact that they could not hold a government accountable, except through the remote mechanism of an election, by which time the damage resulting from poor decision-making, malfeasance, incompetence or outright contempt for the electorate, might be irreparable or irreversible”…… “……. the Commission gradually came to accept the fact that Saint Lucians appear to be dissatisfied with their system of Government”….. “This meant that the Commission had to make meaningful proposals for altering our Constitution, and that mere ‘tweaks’ would not suffice. Any proposals for reform simply had to fundamentally address these concerns or they would be meaningless.”……. “In other words, we had to make a real attempt at actually solving the problems they identified”…. “we recognized that any report we produced would be a document for posterity. It would stand as an eternal statement of how Saint Lucians viewed themselves in the early part of this century and of how they hoped to change their government for the better.”…… “This realization – that an incremental, too conservative, or purely evolutionary approach to constitutional reform would not satisfy our people – infused all of the Commission’s work as it made its way across the length and breadth of our country.”
Plain and simple, the people of St Lucian want the rug pulled from under the status quo. Now, we appreciate the fact that they may not be able to get all they are demanding and that the process of instituting change will take time. We understand too that there would be resistance to change from the present crop of politicians, especially those in power and others who believe they are on the verge of assuming power. Also, we heard the Prime Minister’s admonition about our ability to pay for the changes the people are calling for, but everyone knows that government finds money to do whatever it wants. We note that that same caution has not been used in the move to increase the number of House of Assembly constituencies by four.
Regardless of all of this, the bottom line is that St Lucians have called for changes in the way they are being governed. Their disappointment with what currently obtains is evidenced by the widespread apathy that now prevails to the point of the massive abstentions from the voting process. The government and opposition, the House of Assembly and the Senate, must stop listening to themselves and begin listening to the voices of the people….otherwise all this talk about democracy becomes a sham.