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Revised Final Report of the Constitutional Review Commission approved by House

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The constitutional reform process which began six years ago with the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission has taken another step forward.{{more}}

On Thursday, November 13th, 2008, the Report of the Committee of the Whole House on the Revised Final Report of the Constitutional Review Commission was received and approved by the House of Assembly.

The report, which was prepared with the assistance of the Constitutional Review Steering Committee (CRSC), came out of discussions held between the CRSC and the Committee of the Whole House on the Revised Final Report which had been submitted to the House of Assembly on 28th September, 2006.

Seventeen agreed-upon recommendations are included in the report, including: The establishment of a non-Executive President and the bringing to an end of the constitutional monarchial system; the increase in the membership of the House of Assembly to 27 persons; the change of the name of the legislature from House of Assembly to National Assembly; the establishment of an independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission; the establishment of an Ombudsman; the establishment of an Integrity Commission; the strengthening of the Judiciary, including the regionalization of the Magistracy; and the replacement of the Privy Council by the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate court; the restriction of the size of Cabinet to no more than 12 members of the National Assembly; the strengthening of the constitutional provision on the death penalty and the establishment of a Teaching Services Commission.

Additionally, the Government and Opposition are in agreement that the existing electoral system of constituency-based first-past-the-post be altered by the introduction of a mixed system comprising the existing first-past-the-post arrangement and a proportional representation system of a straightforward “list-type.” According to the report, “This alteration would immeasurably strengthen representative democracy and better protect minority political representation.”

There are several other challenging issues for which no consensus has been formed. These include the issue of possible term limits for the Prime Minister and the need for constitutional reform to facilitate the achievement of deeper regional integration.

Describing the report as very comprehensive, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who moved the motion for the acceptance of the report, said that he thought a good job had been done on it. He said he hoped that there could be unanimity in the house on the report and “if there is any dissonance, it would be of a kind that could easily be accommodated within the frame of the report.”

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, making his contribution to the debate, said that when the process of constitutional reform started, he was “very much committed to the exercise.” He however said that as time went on, he began to question, in his own mind, a number of matters. He said he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister expressing certain concerns. That letter, dated 27th July 2007, indicated that until the matters detailed in the letter were satisfactorily dealt with, the Opposition would not participate any further in the Constitutional Review Process.

Eustace said in his view, most of the concerns were not difficult to deal with, but the Opposition was “simply ignored”. Eustace said that the Opposition had put some proposals before the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and he would like to see those proposals dealt with as soon as possible. “After that, we will give consideration to our decision,” Eustace said.

The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), established on October 8th 2002 was chaired by Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell and consisted of twenty-five persons representing the Government, the Opposition, Civil Society and Vincentians in the Diaspora.

On 7th June 2007, a nine-member Constitutional Review Steering Committee (CRSC) consisting of the former chairman of the CRC, the former Deputy Chairman and seven former members of the CRC was set up to take the process forward.

The CRSC together with the Committee of the Whole House has been authorized to appoint a committee of Draftspersons to draft the proposed changes to the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines under specified guidelines.