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Embracing constitutional reform – a moment of change

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From the on-set, it must be stated categorically that constitutional reform is one of the most important weapons in the armory of our Caribbean people, in any attempt to advance a society responsive to the needs of our people, within the context of our post-colonial circumstance.{{more}}

Over the past years, since the attainment of our national independence and the reception of a written constitution as a source of Law, many in various circles have demanded constitutional reform in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Overtime, the call for reform has intensified and today we witness a clearly articulated vision as it relates to the most urgent need to embark on meaningful reform of our nation’s constitution. Quite frankly, assisting the process is a clear expression of the necessary political will to bring about the much needed changes required.

It is indeed a most significant moment in our history as a people, and particularly so since our pursuits for positive change are driven by the need to fashion an authentic and homegrown identity as it regards the supreme law of our land. Yes, the presentation of our 1979 constitution was a symbol of the transition from colonialism to self-government, but to what extent did it represent an embodiment of laws catering for our peculiar circumstances? Was this almost alien document, willed to us by our former colonizers, intended to be our guide forever?

Although the constitution represents our birth certificate of nationhood, and it is a manifestation of the struggles of our people to bring about a symbolic break with a significant aspect of colonialism, on the threshold of celebrating our 30th anniversary of national independence, we still cannot boast of having a seriously indigenous constitution. A quest for constitutional reform is, therefore, a defining moment in our transition to a post-colonial society.

Dr Eric Williams was clear in the course of his brilliant piece – “Future of the Caribbean” in his book ‘From Columbus to Castro’, of a need for total independence, when he noted: “Dependence on the outside world in the Caribbean is not only economic. It is also cultural and institutional. Political forms and social institutions were imitated rather than created, borrowed rather than relevant, reflecting the forms existing in the particular metropolitan country from which they were derived.” Dr. Williams furthered that: “Legal systems, educational structures and administrative institutions reflect past practices, which are now being abandoned in the metropolitan countries where they originated.”

It is correct to suggest that the fostering of a true Vincentian identity hinges on the necessity to embrace the call for radical changes. We have already witnessed the beginning of many radical changes in St Vincent and the Grenadines within our educational system, signified by our efforts to ensure universal access to secondary education and the opening of greater opportunities for educational enhancement at the University level. Constitutional reform in this season of a much needed carefully planned and conceived restructuring is to form an important and necessary part on the continuum.

The establishment of a broad-based Constitutional Review Commission, to engage all citizens in a national conversation to review our country’s constitution in order to strengthen the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, and to address issues of our political democracy must be commended.

The process of gathering information contained in the Final Report produced by the Constitutional Review Commission was gathered through an extremely rigorous process. The process included consultations in every constituency in St Vincent and the Grenadines, which captured a widespread outreach to non-governmental and community based organizations. It is noteworthy that consultations were held with Vincentians in the diaspora – in the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Jamaica, Cuba, the British Virgin Islands, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

One should anticipate that during the upcoming months that the education process would continue on general issues of Constitutional Reform and particularly on aspects touching and concerning the proposed changes to be made. As the process continues, it is also important that we keep the course distilled of negative political vices, which may only seek to derail the good efforts of the Commission. Thus far, there has been no serious opposition to the process. What is more is that there has not been any critique of the substantive question as to whether we need Constitutional reform.

We will not settle to be considered as constitutional monarchies in perpetuity, with the British Monarch serving as our Head of State. The British Monarch has had a secured presence in the political identity of our state through our Constitution. With our successes in constitutional reform, one can expect a redefinition of this aspect of our post-colonial identity. To my view, this is the most significant attack on the remnants of colonialism since the attainment of our nation’s independence in 1979. Our experience in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will serve as a definite lesson for those islands within the Commonwealth Caribbean, which may not have already embarked on a similar process.

In our society, the constitution is a foundational pillar setting into place the matrix of political power which determines issues of governance. It in other words defines the boundaries of our political philosophy. Constitutional reform is intended to create changes to those aspects of the body of laws which over the years of its evolution revealed a need for change in the interest of the proper administration of justice, and in order to strengthen the political values to which we subscribe. I continue to hold fast to the view that this is our golden opportunity to cement significant changes to the supreme law of the land. Constitutional reform has my support!

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.

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