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Constitutional Review – Recommendations – The Legislature

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PART 3

With a rare opportunity to reshape the face of the House of Assembly, the majority of Commissioners rejected the submission for the creation of an Upper House. However, there were major recommendations for the expansion of the present configuration to achieve the same objective as a senate.

“Having discussed the choice at length, and notwithstanding the support by two commissioners and several respondents for a Senate, the overwhelming majority of your commissioners have agreed to recommend that SVG should retain the unicameral legislature which we have had since Independence in 1979 and even well before that date,” the revised final report stated.

The commissioners looked at various rationales in other jurisdictions for the creation of an Upper House but could not see the validity within the Vincentian context.{{more}}

“The conventional wisdom is that an Upper House is useful in societies in which there are significant differences of one or more of the following: ethnicity, culture, regional or sectoral interests, geography, and even history. In those cases an Upper House can serve to rectify imbalances of power and influence as between segments of the society which might otherwise feel alienated, marginalised or disadvantaged. On the other hand, St Vincent and the Grenadines is a small State of fewer than 110,000 ordinarily resident inhabitants. We are an extremely homogeneous society; ethnicity, cultural differences and the like are not relevant aspects of our society so as to be used as justification for the creation of an Upper House,” stated the report.

In response to the argument that an Upper House can provide a forum for the refinement of hastily drafted or ill-considered legislation, the commissioners felt that the most cost effective way of dealing with persistently defective legislation is to dismiss the draftsmen.

“On the issue of cost, States such as ours which exist on budgets which leave little room for extravagance, have to subject constitutional reform proposals to careful cost-benefit analyses. Although we have not undertaken any such costings, we have good reasons to believe that the operational costs of an Upper House of any size would exceed the additional financial burdens of an expanded Lower House. One only has to take into consideration the duplication of clerical and administrative staff and of equipment, utilities and other inevitable items of recurrent expenditure, to conclude that the creation of a Senate would be a far more expensive proposition than the combination of an expanded Lower House and NACE.”

Major recommendations

The Constitutional Review Commission has recommended that Parliament be expanded from 21 to 27 members. At present there are 15 elected members, four Government Senators, and two Opposition Senators. The proposal is to add two more constituencies to bring to 17 the number of elected members and expand the number of senators from six to ten with the government having six (one more than at present), the “Minority” (proposed new name for the Opposition) having two and the President (the post proposed to replace the Governor General) appoint three to represent Civil Society Organisations. It is intended that these posts be also politically neutral. No more than two Government senators may hold ministerial appointments.

In the event that one party sweeps the polls, the commission recommended that the losing parties should still have representation in Parliament.

“In the event that there is no Minority Leader, the President should appoint the Minority Senators on the advice of the leader of the political party polling the second highest number of votes in the most recent general elections,” was the recommendation.

“The Senators should have all of the powers, privileges, and immunities enjoyed by the political Representatives, including the right to vote on Bills which seek to amend the Constitution, but the Senators should not be permitted to vote on Motions of no-confidence in the Government.”

Other recommendations

The commission also recommended that the name of Parliament be changed from the House of Assembly to the “National Assembly”; the name “Opposition” be changed to “Minority”, and the “Opposition Leader” be changed to “Minority Leader”; that the age for entry into Parliament be reduced from 21 to 18; and that Ministers of Religion and Vincentians who hold dual or multiple citizenship should not be disqualified from being Parliamentarians.

Also proposed is that the Speaker of the National Assembly be selected from outside the assembly but the deputy Speaker may be selected from sitting members.

General elections

There was a submission for the date of general elections to be fixed. The commission found a compromise by recommending that general elections be held within a specific six-week window every five years.

“The first of which should be determined by the National Assembly. The Prime Minister could then decide on the election date within the specified six-week period,” the commission recommended.

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