OVER the last four months I have read the Constitution countless times, trying to unravel the mysteries that have appeared. It is of profound interest to note that the debates on the constitutional provisions that have recently excited the populace are not found in the Constitutional Reform Report. There was initially discussion in the month of May on the timelines for calling an election, and the provisions for a minimum of fourteen and a maximum of 21 days from the issuance of the writ to the Chief Elections Officer by the Governor General.
The Report has recommendations for a fixed date of elections, being the 5th Anniversary date. However the Report recommends keeping the provisions for the Governor General / President to dissolve the House. I would have thought that fixing the time lines for nomination day and the holding of elections should have been addressed as even in the absence of fixed date, there is some defined time line for the process from dissolution of the House.
The second matter that has been a topic of discussion is the appointment and removal of the Attorney General. The Report recommends that the Attorney General‘s prequalification should be that of a High Court Judge and the option of a political Attorney General should remain. However the shortcoming of our present constitution as it relates to the appointment and removal of an Attorney General in a public office received no commentary. It is clear from a reading of the Constitution that the Attorney General in a public office is appointed and can be removed by the Public Service Commission with no input from the Governor General, Prime Minister and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. There is no statement of qualification of an Attorney General in our present constitution. This certainly cannot be acceptable.
The third matter that has been a topic of recent discourse is the appointment of a Deputy Speaker. There is no mention of this in the Report. There is still some grey area as to whether it is mandatory for a Deputy Speaker to be appointed before the House can be deemed properly constituted. Is our Constitution stating that the House can only be properly constituted when both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are present at a session? What is defined as ‘convenient’ in Section 36 (1), and should we now have an amendment to define the period in which a Deputy Speaker should be appointed.
I recently did an online survey which asked two questions, firstly whether one had read the constitution and the other as to whether one had participated in the discussions of the Constitution Reform Commission. The results were astounding, in that it suggested that the vast majority of the population had never read the constitution and those who read it only read a few sections. The majority also took no part in the deliberations and recommendations of the Commission.
In my humble view, I do not believe that the Constitutional Reform Report has legitimacy as a document which reflects the view of the majority of the population, and cannot be put forward that way. I believe we must start with the present Constitution and fix the glaring shortcomings within the next 12 months, and in parallel begin an intensive public education programme of informing our populace as to the content of the present Constitution. It is only when we understand what we have at present can we as a people adequately comment on the changes that are required.
There undoubtedly must be a commitment by both the Government and the Opposition to begin the process now, with the very lucid shortcomings that have evolved in the last four months. Let us do this in small steps first and get the population fully aware of the importance of a constitution and the rights that you have as a citizen. Empower with knowledge and you empower for change.