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New Start to Constitutional Reform in SVG

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by Maxwell Haywood 25.SEP.09

SVG is at a critical juncture in its history. On November 25, 2009, it must decide on the supreme law of the land – the Constitution. Regardless of the outcome of the Referendum, hopefully, this process will release that deep desire in all of us to control our destiny as a nation, and begin a new journey which will take us way beyond November 25, 2009, and towards full human emancipation.{{more}}

If there was any chance for a postponement of the Referendum, I would have gone for that route. Unless there is a sudden change, there is no way at this time that the Referendum would be postponed. There is no more time left to make changes to the final document. This is it! And the fight is on between the political parties to gain the support of the voters for a “yes” or “no” vote.

It is true that the nation had six years to review the old constitution and then formulate improvements to it. It is true that there were widespread consultations. It is also true that after all those consultations, there are significant concerns expressed by Vincentians that more time is needed to come up with something better than what is there now. There is also the view held by many that the Referendum comes to close to the national elections which should be held within one year’s time. This view charges that the Referendum will become hostage to the national elections campaign. However, the fact remains that the date has been set for the Referendum on the new Constitution. There is no turning back at this point in time. The nation is set for November 25, unless a social movement forces the government to postpone the referendum and at the same time demand that the Opposition NDP come back fully into the process. I do not see that happening! But I could already see the contours of future efforts to make a better constitution.

Many of the changes made in the proposed new constitution address issues that have been plaguing our society for a long time now. Our nation has been deeply troubled by a very weak system of governance in which accountability and transparency were too often sidelined. The proposed new constitution should be able to correct these major weaknesses. In fact, it calls for several mechanisms to address these weaknesses, such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Integrity Commission, and the Parliamentary Commission.

The nation of SVG has always been uncomfortable with the fact that its people were not formally the final decision makers in their land; they did not have the final word in deciding the nation’s destiny. Now a President will replace the Governor-General and he/she will be answerable to the people of SVG, not the British Monarchy.

Similarly, who should pass judgment over us when we seek justice from the court? Should it be some people who sit in the UK and have never lived in our society and experienced our culture? Or should it be our own homegrown justice system? Why should I be against being judged by The Honourable Justice Adrian Saunders, or The Right Honourable Justice Michael de la Bastide TC, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, or The Honourable Justice Desiree Bernard. Why should I not prefer these Caribbean Judges?

The issue of the omnipotent Prime Minister is another good example. We know the powers of the PM in our small island state. While the powers have not been completely checked, they have been curtailed. And the nation will now be more attentive to the abuse of the powers given to the Prime Minister. In this regard, I could see more improvements or reforms to the constitution coming in the future.

Under the proposed new Constitution, our system of justice should be strengthened and made more perfect with mechanisms such as the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, Tribunals, and Legal Aid.

The proposed new Constitution stands a better chance for building a strong foundation for our social capital to form and grow. The nation stands to benefit tremendously from the development aspects of the constitution, especially The Guiding Principles of State Policy, and the Protection of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

However, the new constitution should have included more on the place and role of organized civil society in national governance. This should not be left up to the whims and fancies of the President, Prime Minister or Minority Leader. The participation of organized civil society should be instituted and grounded in the constitution. This is more so since civil society is the largest sector of the society. It is larger than government and the business/private sector. In this sense, civil society represents the large space in our nation outside of government and the business/private sector.

The proposed new constitution recognizes the importance of social groups and classes in building a society for all. It recognizes children and youth, workers, disabled persons, women, and older persons.

I see these first sets of constitutional reforms or improvements as a process in which Vincentians continue to consolidate their historical efforts to regain their history and forge a more responsive governance and development structure that will elevate our humanity. The constitutional reform process will continue into the indefinite future. In this connection, November 25, 2009, will be one stop along the way to fully humanize our governance structure and processes.

In my view, voting “no” will take us directly back to the old constitution. Voting ‘yes” will give us a constitution which does not have everything that each of us wanted to see included, but it gives us a basis for further improvements in the future. And now that the nation has had its first experience with improving its constitution, it will continue to do so in the years ahead. Whether there is a “yes” or “no” vote, so far there are many lessons to be learned in preparation for future reforms or improvements to the nation’s Constitution.

A “yes” vote is not going to hurt SVG in any way.

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