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Dr. Gonsalves and constitutional change

Time and again, almost like a recitation, Prime Minister Doctor the Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves has made several animated and constructively critical speeches bemoaning the glaring weaknesses in our 25-year-old Constitution. He has even gone as far as suggesting “root and branch reform”.{{more}}

Demands of Democracy

The demands of participatory democracy shriek out for meaningful constitutional change. In this context the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) has its hands full. One hopes that the launching of its discussion booklet, “Looking At Our Constitution: Choices For Change” will be a landmark event which will significantly advance the process of constitutional change.

A brief discussion of the Prime Minister’s constitutional powers

Receiving overpowering artillery fire from Dr. Gonsalves is the awesome constitutional power with which the Prime Minister’s office is clothed. He wants that power decreased. Indira Gandhi, the former Indian prime minister, is reputed to have said that “politics in our constitutional democracy is the act of wielding and holding absolute power for a long, long time”.

It must be understood that the defects in our Constitution are not of Dr. Gonsalves’ making. He inherited (having won the last elections) the sweeping constitutional power of the office of prime minister. So it is not his fault that as Prime Minister he is the moving spirit and main subject of the Constitution; that the Constitution virtually makes him an elected king; the oxygen of the executive arm of government (cabinet); that he appears not only to have powers of “life and death” but constitutionally he is “the way, the truth and the life.” The fact of the matter is that nothing in Government turns without his involvement.

Symbol of Democracy

But our British-made Constitution is supposed to be the shining symbol of our democracy … “government for the people, by the people of the people.” Whatever the merits or demerits of the Prime Minister’s power – whether wise, whether moral, whether practical – the Prime Minister’s power and authority are constitutional.

But is his power consistent with true participatory democracy? Dr. Gonsalves thinks not. The Constitutional Reform Commission as the principal moulder of thought and one of the significant authors and directors of intended constitutional reform must take Dr. Gonsalves’ lamentation on board making every attempt to heed in word and deed.

Infallibility?

On account of the Prime Minister’s extraordinary constitutional power there is a belief, almost of religious proportions over the years, that the Prime Minister is infallible when exercising his functions. Hats off to Dr. Gonsalves for declaiming this offensive mindset! Those who feel that the Prime Minister is a Sun around which planets revolve must be mindful that “men close their doors against a setting sun.” Indeed, “What is man that we are so mindful of him”. Unless our Prime Minister is our servant working in our best interest without cant or double standards he is not of us or for us. Let us all lend our hearts and minds to the process of framing a people’s constitution! WHY NOT?

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