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Reopen the Preamble to the Constitution

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by Oscar Allen 09.OCT.09

In the Preamble of a constitution, you go to the heart of what the nation stands for. It tries to pull together the views and the tasks that different sections of the community cherish and envisage, and yet reach higher still. A good preamble is brief and turgid and fulfilling. It also points to some major preoccupation of the drafters.{{more}}

The preamble – and the present constitution – was written in 1978. When the draft came from London, the late Henry Williams wrote to the leader and members of the House of Assembly. He was the spokesman/chairman of those who formed a decolonization or independence coalition on the constitution. The letter said:

I attach hereto for consideration of the House of Assembly some comments and suggestions by the National Independence Committee on the Draft Independence Constitution.

I hope that these suggestions will be given due consideration.

Referring to what it had submitted earlier around mid 1978, the NIC wrote: “The NIC proposals called for a preamble which would capture the struggles of our people in the post of Justice and Equality. It should define our present tasks as a nation, outlining our fundamental beliefs, and it should provide some vision of our future.

The Preamble in the Draft falls short of these ideas in that it says nothing of our past struggles or future aspirations”.

The letter also proposed a replacement Preamble as follows:

WHEREAS the people of Saint Vincent, the national territory of which comprises…

a) Affirm that the Nation is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God and the dignity and freedom of man;

b) Acknowledge their debt of gratitude to their predecessors including the gallant Caribs who struggled and fought in defence of their homeland, and all those who laboured over the years to secure and maintain justice and equality in our country;

c) Recognize that the principles of economic, political and cultural democracy are essential to the present and future well-being of the Nation;

d) Believe that economic democracy entails just economic rewards for labour; that political democracy permits every able citizen to participate regularly in the ordering of the affairs of the Nation; and cultural democracy ensures for all citizens access to knowledge and recreation, the maintenance of human dignity, and the rights of privacy of family life;

e) Maintain that all citizens must be guaranteed equal and inalienable rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the society;

f) Desire to order their international affairs in such ways as will assist in the furtherance of the national purpose, to be agents of world peace; defenders of the national rights of all states, and protectors of the world environment

g) Desire that their constitution should enshrine the above mentioned beliefs, aspirations, principles and ideals;

NOW THEREFORE ETC.

This preamble proposed and rejected in 1978/79 is twice as long as the one we accepted in 1978/79, but it is 5 times as fulfilling and 10 times more nurturing. It even embraces a declaration of independence in sub clauses c) and d) by affirming a many sided democracy which colonialism denied and violated. Sub clause f) placed us and our nation state as active postcolonial agents in the international order.

There is nothing perfect about this NIC preamble of 1978/79. It can be improved, but even without any improvements, it is better by far than the preamble that is in our proposed constitution. That preamble on p5 of the newspaper pullout must be renegotiated.

During the consultation and reporting season, the CRC did bring forth a preamble which many people accepted as superior to the present preamble. It was rejected on truly elitist and damaging grounds. The old preamble said the government was better for us because the late Hon R. Milton Cato wrote it. That is an excessive exercise of Prime Ministerial power, reaching back from the grave! Surely, we can pay tribute to our first Prime Minister without violating our people’s proper right to a self respecting voice. Leave such violations to the colonial past.

Let me close by raising a thought on the closing clause of the proposed preamble. Do I have a valid point when I say that this clause is too self-glorifying about the process and framers of the constitution? Can we not as a people just offer our participation in the effort, humbly, without mention? After all we never do mention in the Preamble our foreparents and their struggles to defend our land, or to smash slavery, or to drive back crown colony rule and the plantocracy. Do our 6 years of talk and thought deserve a clause, more than their blood sweat and triumphs? Just a thought.

I have been quoting from NIC documents from 1978 without giving real credit to the drafters. These faceless sheroes included civil groups like the St.Vincent Union of Teachers, the NYC, the Nurses Association, New Artist Movement, Ladies of Charity, Survivors of Biabou, National Council of Women, Diamonites, Catholic Youth Movement, Methodist Circuit Youth Council,, Ecumenical Study Group, Grammar School Students Council, Organization for Rural Development, New Rescuers, Jaycees, Yulimo, Christian Council, Sir Rupert John, Louis Duncan, Henry Williams, DFM, plus 10 more. These 34 agents and agencies of decolonization were truly home grown. They deserve to be praised. It is they who began the consultation. We must continue and pursue till we get the constitution that they began to write.

I would like to look at the Principles of State policy and the Bill of Rights next time. Would you like us to help redraft a more worthy preamble? There is so much to do, eh. November 25 is unreasonable.

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