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Why must we wait? – A case for Constitutional Reform

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For over two hundred and fifty years, the Caribbean endured one of the most ruthless, exploitative and dehumanizing systems of human trafficking and forced labour ever experienced by mankind. Yet we waited, albeit with many forms of resistance, for almost three centuries before we could attain physical freedom.{{more}}

For another five quarter centuries, over one hundred and twenty-five years after the abolition of slavery, the people of the English speaking Caribbean struggled but waited for material self-government. And yes, we waited.

For nearly another two decades, the Vincentian people waited, although in great discomfort until 1979, for national independence. Plenty waiting, but we waited.

From October 27th, 1979, to October 27th, 2009, we will have waited a period of thirty years, three decades, before seeing the fruits of the initiative to address meaningfully the issue of constitutional decolonization. The question is why must we wait a day longer? A “YES” vote in November will mean that we are ready to take charge of our own affairs at the highest level.

Today I take this opportunity to join the noble fight of making a case for constitutional reform. In any period of a revolution everyone will not be a convert. However, I would have preferred today to be putting forward this case in an environment where all our people were on the same page, working together to untie our constitution from the colonial knot which chokes it continually. Not only have we failed to exercise full ownership of our sovereignty since independence, but more importantly the absence of a homegrown constitution has brought severe strains on the growth of our civilization.

What are the facts of the case?

The facts are clear and simple. In the year 1979 on October 27th, our people received national independence from Britain. This surrender of political sovereignty over our island must be viewed as one of the most decisive actions in the process of decolonization. The fight for independence was not an easy one, the struggles were deep-seated, and it took the courage of many of our sons and daughters to achieve any form of success over a period of time. It was a fight for colonial disengagement. Today the fight continues.

What is most critical, however, is that at the point of political independence, we as a people received a document, a constitution, a text which was to form the supreme law of our land and act as the virtual blue print setting the framework for the evolution and the shaping of the identity of the Vincentian civilization. The constitution of 1979 has run its full course. It is high time for reform.

Constitutional Reform is important for our people at this point on two key grounds. Firstly, the document which forms our constitution today is not one which we drafted with the peculiarities of our people in mind; and secondly, even if one is to go out on a limb and give the document the benefit of the doubt as being a good document, our society has evolved over the last thirty years in so many ways that the need for constitutional reform is an indisputable recommendation.

Those are the facts.

What are the issues arising from the facts?

Three simple questions can be asked at this stage:

(1) Are we at the stage where we can draft for ourselves our own Constitution? Yes!

(2) Are there significant benefits to be derived from reforming the text of the 1979 constitution? Yes!

(3) Are we certain of what we desire in a reformed Constitution, and if so, have we followed the procedure of effective consultation to harness the vibes of our people on all critical areas to be reformed? Yes!

At this point, it is difficult to convince anyone, except someone intent on mischief, that constitutional reform is not necessary.

What is the law if we so desire?

The final stamp of confirmation must be placed by our people in a Referendum. Our people will affirm that we are no longer willing to wait, so we will vote “Yes” in the referendum in November. We have already waited too long!

It would be remiss of me if I failed to give particular attention to the Youth Constituent. Special attention for analysis must, therefore, be given to the clauses outlined in the draft of the new constitution which speak to youth development and participation delineated in the Guiding Principles of State Policy as follows:

Clause 19: “Due appreciation is to be accorded to young persons for their contribution to nation-building.”

Clause 20: “Every young person has the right to educational, social, cultural and vocational enhancement, including a right to fair opportunity for responsible participation in national development.”

Our youth must remain positive in the campaign for constitutional reform. We must stand today and be counted!

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator, now serving as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture etc.

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