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PMC statement on Constitutional Reform in SVG

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28.AUG.09

As the time draws closer to the referendum on the Constitutional Bill 2009, the People’s Movement for Change wishes to commend the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for their participation and ownership of the Constitutional reform process thus far.{{more}}

The movement notes the interest and contribution of Civil Society, religious organisations and concerned citizens at home and abroad from inception to the present time. Indeed, the members of the Constitutional Reform Committee and all support staff must be commended for their service to the nation over the past seven years. The media must also be particularly applauded for their continued coverage of this most important national development issue.

However, while there has been robust debate on some issues, others have been glossed over or virtually left unattended. In this regard, the Movement calls upon all sections of the Vincentian society to engage in more meaningful, non-partisan and productive debate on matters relevant to constitutional reform.

The People’s Movement for Change observes several innovations to the proposed Bill – the creation of important human and civil rights Commissions; the replacement of foreign institutions such as the Queen of England as the de facto head of State and the Privy Council as the final appellate court with indigenous ones – the President and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); constitute an improvement on the 1979 constitution. The inclusion of mechanisms such as the office of an Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, if provided with an adequate mandate and the requisite powers, will serve to deepen the fundamental rights of Vincentians; while the Integrity, Parliamentary and Teaching Service Commissions serve as important instruments of decentralising power.

The Movement commends the move to enhance the social and economic rights of Vincentians to include ‘the right to work’, ‘the right to health’ and ‘the right to the enjoyment of freedom of culture and to cultural expression’ as important principles and values of the proposed new constitution. Most importantly, the People’s Movement for Change notes the prominence given to the family as the ‘natural basic group unit of society’ and envisages that the conditions would be created for increased support to the institution of the family.

In spite of these positive features, the Bill is still far from making, ‘the people the true political sovereign of the State.’ While Chapter two affirms that ‘the people are the true sovereign of the state’ the preponderance of the political party renders this ideal almost non-existent.

Chairman of the People’s Movement for change, Oscar Allen, notes that ‘in our draft Constitution, political parties dominate political life as never before’. The political party overthrows and displaces the citizen as a critical part of governance. The fact that our political parties do not have an internal democratic tradition makes it even more a danger to have them dominate our political life. It is the political party, not ‘We the People’ who chooses the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The Political Party chooses the non-elected Assembly members and excludes independent citizens from running for elections. Essentially, the Political Party rises to new heights without any clear obligation and responsibility to the people.

Interestingly, while the Political Party has been elevated to ‘new heights of governance, the Bill is silent on the important issue of how election campaigns ought to be financed. The People’s Movement for Change therefore considers the regulation of election campaign financing an important feature of national governance that can assist in the reduction of corruption and hence bring some civility to governance.

The People’s Movement for change is convinced that the years of effort and scarce financial resources expended so far can be saved if the referendum is depoliticized-that is to say, held at a time when both major parties will have the opportunity to think in the national interest rather than from a partisan vantage point. We therefore believe that this goal can best be attained if the referendum is postponed and then held within a year after the next national elections.

The postponement of the referendum would effectively minimise the current partisan approach to the proposed constitution Bill 2009 and allow the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to consider afresh the following:

1. An Executive Presidency

2. The monopoly of the political party over the parliamentary and electoral process

3. National Financing of elections campaign process

4. Ways to give more independence and muscle to the various new commissions and the ombudsman.

We remain convinced that to put the referendum to a vote at this time with broad sections of the population in open revolt will result in complete failure and defeat. We are further convinced that too many good ideas and institutional changes are embodied in this proposed bill for us to sacrifice it on the altar of political calculations. The people must take ownership of the process: demand time for more discussion, demand more changes and demand passage of a reform constitution the majority of people will be prepared to live by.

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