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Let the Courts be heard


The Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is on trial. Or more precisely our politicians’ adherence to its vision. For at the heart of the Constitution lies a simple, but majestic proposition: that a people whose history has been defined by slavery, colonialism, racism, and the entire continuum of human bondage have the God given capacity to govern our own lives as a free people under the rule of law. And the constitution expresses this confidence in our right and capacity to govern ourselves on a single foundational principle: the majority rules.

Indeed, the framers of the constitution were so committed to this majoritarian principle that they also decided that the constitution itself could only be changed by virtue of a super majority vote (66%+) in a national referendum.

Today, the ongoing contentious debate on the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of the Speaker’s decision to (1) permit the minority party to bring to the floor of the House a motion of no confidence in the government and (2) allow the majority party to amend the motion of no confidence provides a genuine test of Vincentians’ commitment to the rule of law and the constitutional mandate of majority rule. For we need to be brutally honest here: the views of the Government and the Opposition party on the constitutionality of the Speaker’s decisions are utterly irreconcilable. Indeed, the Opposition has claimed and continues to claim that the Government has violated our constitution. The Government, of course, proclaims otherwise.

The readers of SEARCHLIGHT have clearly been enlightened by the deeply researched scholarship and legal opinions of Dr Francis Alexis QC, Dr Linton Lewis, and former Attorney General, Parnell Campbell QC who have addressed this issue in our pages. Their arguments were powerful, persuasive, profound, and thoroughly grounded in the principles of majority rule and the rule of law. We do not need to re-state the nitty gritty details of their arguments here. But Dr. Alexis was clear – that our constitution does not permit the motion of no confidence brought by the NDP to be heard – absent the support of a majority of parliament. And Dr Lewis and former Attorney General Parnell Campbell, who have both served as NDP’s parliamentarians and chairpersons were equally clear: the Government’s motion to amend the Opposition’s motion is in fact permissible.

None of this, however, is persuasive to Dr Friday and much of the NDP. Nor do they have to be. There is no reason of course for Dr Friday to doubt the intellectual integrity of Dr Lewis, Parnell Campbell, and Dr Alexis. Indeed, we have every reason to trust them. But neither do we have any reason to doubt the intellectual integrity of Dr Friday, his advisers and his fellow NDP’s parliamentarians in making a competing constitutional argument. In the same vein, no one should doubt that the Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ took actions on the floor of the House to protect constitutional governance in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Indeed, had he not done so, Vincentians would not be now so thoroughly engaged in such a serious conversation on what our constitution requires of us.

However, to admit that all parties equally believe in the truth of their claims offers no resolution to the current conflict. Here we must return to the framers of our constitution. Fully aware that from time to time constitutional disputes could and would arise, the framers offered a clear pathway to resolve such disputes: take them to a court of law. Of this there should be no dispute. In fact, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have already signaled a willingness to allow the Court to resolve this dispute.

We agree with them completely. Majority governance under the rule of law is the bedrock of our constitutional compact. To undermine majority rule is to betray our democracy. To abandon the rule of law is to embrace anarchy. None of these is in keeping with our constitutional order. Hence, given that an intense and massive public difference has erupted on whether the constitution is being honoured or violated, we must resolve that conflict precisely as the constitution instructs: in a Court of Law. In doing so we would demonstrate that we remain bound by the rule of law. Also, we would guarantee that Vincentians today, and Vincentians not yet born, would know the precise constitutional instruments to be employed in a motion of no confidence.

Partisans on both sides have had their say. Independent legal experts have had their say. So now, let the Court be heard. And the Vincentian public will know who is right. And who is wrong.