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Constitutional Reform: A forward step!

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Constitutional reform is the hot topic everywhere. It is expected to get even more heated as we approach the date set for the referendum. The general hope is that as this very important dialogue continues that all parties will discuss the issues which will lead to a consensus in our national interest.{{more}}

Why will I vote YES? Firstly, I recognize 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 circumstances. Secondly, after a careful reading of the Constitution Bill 2009, I am more than convinced that the provisions make for a more effective democracy and a stronger sense of shared national purpose.

We are entering a period in which we must allow national interest to prevail. In this rather delicate period of engagement all groups will go at lengths to be heard. We all have a right to be heard. That is democracy! However, we must not allow our self interest to override the interest of the whole. One will expect that notwithstanding that there has already been widespread consultation on the issue of constitutional reform that as more persons begin to analyze for another time the concept of change that more explanations would be sought.

Indeed, a widespread and intense education plan on the issue would be necessary as we move towards the second reading of the bill in September. 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 wide cross section of 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. This document reflects the voice of the masses.

How do we define a Constitution? A Constitution is a body of fundamental principles according to which a state is governed. It is a set of rules codified in fundamental law which regulates the relationship between the state and citizens, citizens and citizens, and the behavior of states to other states.

It is significant that we mention the Callinago Wars of national liberation; the fighting spirit of African slaves against chattel slavery; and the quest by our people who agitated for a share of governmental authority as we consider our move to adopt a homegrown constitution as a crowning movement.

Excessive nit picking seeking only to derail a most important process must be discouraged. Now is not the time or place for semantics. It is a period in which all concerned citizens must keep a careful eye out for side shows which will attempt to masquerade as overly significant issues. It was interesting to hear the views of Sehon Marshal on the issue of the Opposition leader’s disgust about being referred to as Minority Leader. Mr. Marshal was on target when he noted that the use of a synonym is not an issue which should be considered when deciding whether or not to support constitutional reform. One must not play politics with our constitution. The struggle for our political independence has both a long and noble history. Reforming our constitution builds on the past successes of our fight against colonialism and neo-colonialism.

In order to move this very important process forward we must be cognizant that we are to hold foremost our responsibility as a citizen to assist in the process of building a culture of good governance. The end result must be focused on the recognition of the importance of social capital for the development of our nation. Professor Francis Fukuyama, in his work “Social Capital and Development: The Coming Agenda, was instructive in stating that: “Social capital is what permits individuals to band together to defend their interest and organize to support collective needs. If liberal democracy will be the context in which most developing countries try to enact economic policy and stimulate growth, then social capital is critical to the strength of that political framework.”

From a purely legalistic standpoint, this period of positive change marks a most defining moment in the evolution of our constitutional jurisprudence. As a people it is our chance to prove our strength, resilience and patriotism as we participate in structuring an indigenous document – coming from the bowels of our people. Dr. Francis Alexis aptly echoed the sentiment that we are at a critical stage of the shaping of our national identity as we embark on a process which will give a heritage to our constitution. Future articles on constitution reform will analyze various aspects of the Constitutional Bill 2009.

We must distinguish between a national debate and one which is purely political. Constitutional reform should attract a national debate.

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