Letters & Opinion

Why Not Write Our Own Constitution?

I listened to and read all I could about what everybody else had to say about the Report and the 190 Recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) since the document was first laid and debated in the House of Assembly on August 18 and (later) in both the Upper and Lower Houses, all in one week.

It’s been almost seven years, so it’s time for a time check – or (even better) a reality check – on where we came from, where we are and where we want to go next.

I paid as much attention as possible to all those I was able to watch and listen to in my continuous coverage and assessment of the parliamentary debates on the Report and Recommendations. But, like everyone else, I was especially interested in what the Prime Minister had to say.

I’ve never heard my press colleagues refer to Dr Kenny D. Anthony as “a Constitutional lawyer”. (That freely donated title is usually reserved for another local legal advocate who they also refer to as a “human rights lawyer”). But I know that Kenny Anthony has been both a student and teacher of Constitutional Law. He was CARICOM’s lawyer, he taught law at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and even Sir John Compton and Dame Eugenia Charles accepted him as a Legal Advisor to the OECS leaders when they were considering establishment of a regional Constituent Assembly (RCA), so I awaited his intervention with quite some admittedly bated breath, if not pure anxiety.

Like most Saint Lucians, I haven’t fully read the Saint Lucia Constitution Order (1978). But from all what I heard Prime Minister Anthony say about how the British were thinking and what they did at the time to ensure we could not touch the very Constitution they gave us for the rest of our lives, I’m not sure I even want to (read it all) anymore at this point.

Through the various parliamentary debates and public discussions in the press on the CRC Report and Recommendations, I have come to know more than I ever would have, was it not for them. I heard a lot I knew, but more that I didn’t. However, given the way both sides of both Houses came to the common conclusion that so much is wrong with it, I strongly feel that merely tinkering around with clauses and chapters — no matter how much — to try to re-shape it into something looking more like us is just wasting time, over and over again.

I’ve come to the conclusion that in this day and age, after having established several records as the CARICOM and Commonwealth Caribbean country that has had the longest-lasting Constitutional Reform process that resulted in the most recommendations ever submitted to any government, we need to set another example.

Instead of trying to reshape something that was meant to keep us in a constitutional straightjacket, I strongly feel we should just throw the British baby out with the Monarchical bath water.

If we agree – as both Houses do – that we need to fundamentally reshape this shapeless tract into something more in our own image and likeness, then we not only need to take back the ‘Queen’s Chain’ and stop doing everything in our Parliament in the name of ‘Her Majesty’. We must also be careful not to throw the Independence baby out with the colonial bathwater.

My position is clear. I want us to be clear who will commission the commission’s recommendations. I want to know what’s in it for Ma Joe and Mr Blo. And I also want to know why we can’t just use the end of this current process to start again — afresh.

If I believe what I’ve heard thus far, it will take another seven years (at least) to decide where we want to go. For too many of us, we simply don’t yet know where we want to go, because we are simply still groping in the constitutional darkness, waiting for someone to give us another ‘road map’ to a better Constitution to rule ‘We the People’.

Unlike others with no hope, I do know that we have all it will take to use our past to better shape our future — in this case, by learning all we can from yesterday to ensure we get the best of today and secure the best for tomorrow for all our heirs and successors, red and yellow, rich and poor and not-so-poor.

So, if so be the case, then (like Marvin Gaye sang): Let’s Get It On!

1 Comment

  1. I know many don’t enjoy reading, and as a result are not equipped to do any basic research. As a result, people end up swallowing whatever narrative they are told – to suit various nefarious motives. These type of people are manna from heaven to politicians because of their general unquestioning obedience – “Useful idiots”. Wallowing in ignorance may be comforting to some, but I would rather be enlightened.

    How is one to be taken seriously when it is revealed in the fifth paragraph that the writer has not read the texts and is instead relying on a politician to do all the interpretation for them! How can one form a proper considered opinion? Even this article can damage the (necessary) debate as people will swallow the narrative as set out here! For example – the juxtaposition of ‘taking back the Queen’s Chain’ and ‘stop doing everything in the name of her majesty’ in the same sentence as though the current Monarch is depriving Lucians of their land, is completely misleading. Many Lucians may not know it but the Queen’s Chain is historically a French term, although it was subsumed in the Civil Code as belonging to the Crown, which in turn already belongs to the People (355). The government are already the custodians of it. Tell me in what way the average joe is impacted? If the government sell it off, then it’s the People’s job to stop them. It has nothing to do with the UK. Having the Monarch as head of state is another issue, but it has not caused any interference in the daily working of any other nation (canada, australia etc), so it’s another straw man issue.

    The constitution debate is also proving useful for politicians to deflect their own considerable shortcomings onto the old colonial days, and the writer is happy to indulge them. Why accept blame for our own failures, when we have a perfectly good scapegoat? I sometimes think people would blame the weather on colonial days if they could.

    For those who don’t have the ability, interest or time to do any reading, I suggest watching this video at the end of this post; the first ten minutes document the process to nationhood quite neatly. It appears to me that the constitution was written collaboratively, and in perfectly good faith between the UK and St Lucia; there is no attempt to keep SLU in a straitjacket. Compton, Josie and everyone else who went seemed to broadly agree with it. People also need to understand that the whole point of a constitution is that it shouldn’t be easy to change, so as to suit the whims of the tin pot premier of the day. The UK minister confirms at the time that the document was no guarantee for success, but provided a sensible framework which was considered by all parties. The ship is only as good as the crew.

    It is vital that the constitution meets the needs of the people, of that there is no doubt. But it is a serious issue, and it is complacent to assume that whatever arises will automatically be better.


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