Features

Proposals For A New Constitution

BY NEVILLE CENAC

THE aim and purpose of this two-part article — the first part was published last Saturday– is to bring about a no-party government in a multi-party state, whereby, the party with the majority works in the interest of all, as intended by the 1979 Constitution, “the supreme law”, which shows us the way in which our country is to be governed.

Today, we continue with the proposals:

The Speaker
24. In order to preserve his independence, the Speaker shall have a notional or fictional seat in the House of Justice, such as “The Member for Old Sarum” or The Member for the Last Railway.

25. He shall be appointed by the elected members of the House, from among two or more persons, on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee of three of the elected members. His appointment shall be unanimous.

26. The Office of Speaker shall be a full-time job.
The Cabinet of Ministers

27. The Cabinet shall consist of no more than nine (9) ministers, namely:
i) a Prime Minister who shall preside over the proceedings;
ii) an Attorney-General;
iii) a Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade;
iv) a Minister for Finance & Economic Affairs; and
v) five other ministers.

28. There shall be no deputy Prime Minister, Ministers of the State, or Parliamentary Secretaries.

29. i) Ministers shall be liable to impeachment for wilfully acting contrary to the public interest. Also their seats may be declared vacant for improper conduct in office.
ii) Whenever a minister is out of the State, or is on leave, the Prime Minister, who has a seat in every ministry by virtue of his office, shall assume responsibility for his duties.

The Minister for Finance & Economic Affairs

30. He shall be knowledgeable in finance. If a suitable candidate cannot be found from among the elected and nominated members, some other person shall be chosen and shall be an ex officio member of the House and of the Cabinet but shall have no vote. Finding the funds to meet the various services shall be his main task and shall therefore see to it that all revenue departments operate at maximum efficiency.

The Attorney-General

31. Not only shall he be the principal legal advisor to the Government but shall be competent enough to represent the State on all important civil matters, especially where the reputation of the nation or the Government is involved.

The Judiciary

32. Our Constitution is like a massive tree with three gigantic branches designed to produce good fruits for the sustenance of all. The very arrangement of its chapters conveys to us that the concept of a separation of powers is the actual living material within the body of the Constitution, as it can be clearly seen that all legislative, executive and judicial functions (formerly concentrated in a king) are now reposed in those three distinct entities.

33. In reality however, the concept is mainly theoretical, and any pretence to the contrary is farcical.

34. What separation is there between parliament and the executive? None: for the majority of those who make the laws are themselves Cabinet Ministers.

35. And further, though no member of the Executive participates in the deliberations of the courts, the part played by Prime Ministers in matters of finance and appointments denies the existence of any real separation.

36. It is recommended, therefore, that the judiciary be made financially independent and that no politician be allowed any say in appointments to it.

37. One needs refer only to three examples to expose the fallacy:
i) most lawyers in the OECS are aware that Mr. Brian Alleyne of Dominica acted as Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court for some three years without ever being appointed, only because one single prime minister withheld his consent;
ii) ex prime minister James Mitchel of Saint Vincent can attest to the refusal of the Heads of Government of the OECS, to extend by two years, the term of office of Mr. Eric Bishop, one of the longest serving judges of the Supreme Court. I was present at that meeting held in 1990, or thereabouts;
iii) The financial impact which the Impacs Report has already had on Saint Lucia and the impasse now existing between our so helpful and long-standing a friend as the United States, drives home the point too precisely for any further comment, except to say that

“He who pays the piper calls the tune”.
Standing Committees of the House

38. There shall be the following seven Standing Committees of the House:
i) finance and management of the public debt;
ii) agriculture, tourism & national development;
iii) public works and contracts;
iv) education and sports;
v) health and social services;
vi) national security; and
vii) public accounts.

The Standing Committees shall be the workshop of the Government.

39. The twenty-one (21) members of the House who are not ministers shall keep the seven Standing Committees actively at work. Persons of vast experience may be co-opted to assist them.

40. Each committee shall comprise five members and three shall form a quorum.

41. A member may belong to more than one standing committee.

42. Decisions of the committees shall be final but may be subject to review by the House upon a resolution of five of its members.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

43. Though mandated by the rules of the House to report annually to it, the PAC has met only twice in 49 years:
i) In 1967, under the chairmanship of the then Leader of the Opposition, Honourable George F.L. Charles, where a two page report was submitted to the House as that Committee was still in its infancy; and
ii) In 1986, under my chairmanship as Leader of the Opposition, where a full report was submitted. The Committee was left with no choice but to write off most of the accounts of the Government and start afresh. The Report exists as a precedent, as I was assisted by a highly experienced Canadian auditor, Mr. Aichinson, who had been Director of Audit in Vanuatu, prior to his appointment here. By virtue of his office, the Director of Audit, is an officer of the Public Accounts Committee.

44. This means, that during all those years, succeeding governments have been indifferent to how our taxes have been spent, amounting to billions.

45. The Public Accounts Committee is the only entity that can keep government ministers and civil servants on their toes, as it can summon all public officers to appear before it to explain their actions, from Prime Minister to messenger. Neither the Cabinet nor the Director of Audit has any such power. And for this reason alone, the role and function of the PAC should be entrenched in the Constitution, with the duty, like the Director of Audit, to report annually to the House.

46. As their answers can make or break them, and render them liable to prosecution, public officers would never wish to see another summons again. The failure to meet and report annually is, therefore, tragic as the public service can become a hatchery of corruption where that committee exists in name only, as already shown.

47. This situation has arisen because, invariably, any unfavourable report would be an indictment on, the Government in office, or, the Opposition, since governments come and go.

48. It is therefore dangerous for any Leader of the Opposition, who has held the office of Minister for Finance, to be the Chairman. That position should instead be held by one of the eleven nominated members, and they should form the majority on the Committee.

49. There are numerous features in this plan capable of recommending itself to the citizens. The fact that:
i) any Saint Lucian citizen, on his own merit, with no allegiance to a party, could become Prime Minister without having to deal with the machinations manifest in the machinery of parties;
ii) the unlimited authority prime ministers have invested in themselves, which gives them the last word in every aspect of our lives, from the cradle to the grave, would be radically reduced, or eliminated;
iii) all inactive and transient representatives would now be actively at work in their constituencies or in Parliament attending to the needs of constituents and the nation as a whole;
iv) compared to the benefits that would definitely accrue generally, the little additional cost would be insignificant; and
v) bitter political division, victimization, tribalism, nepotism, partisanship and injustice in all its forms would be now under the full glare of public scrutiny, and confidence in politicians and politics would be established for the first time since Statehood.

50. Saint Lucia is too miniscule a country and with too little resources to continue to be burdened with 14 ministers, 20 permanent secretaries and a plethora of other offices and officers of all grades and distinctions, all at the expense of the poor tax payers. Those officers should be put to far more productive use to reduce the debt burden, and create employment for others.

51. Inherent in these proposals is the wholesome advice that we should elect our representatives, not on the basis of who we are for, but what we are against. Only so should it be in a democracy, and, a Christian environment.

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