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Proposed constitution and the referendum

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by Rev. Victor H. Job 30.OCT.09

I write to add my voice to the discussion on the proposed Constitution which will be put to the people in a Referendum scheduled for November 25, 2009. Let me hasten to state that the views I express in this article are not those of the Church to which I belong, neither are they the views of any other organization of which I am a part. I speak as a free, independent citizen, born and bred in this country and having the rights and freedoms as any other citizen to express my views on any topic of national importance. I, therefore, feel constrained to pen these comments in the interest of generations to come.{{more}}

This Constitution is a matter of national importance, and in one way or the other it touches the well-being of every Vincentian living and unborn. At the outset, I must express my dismay at the fact that the debate surrounding it has taken on a political colouration that does not speak well of our political maturity after 30 years of independence. Be that as it may, I must add my voice because if I fail to do so, my great grand children will judge me harshly.

First, I wish to point out that this new Constitution is a document of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is the proposed, supreme law that will guide the destiny of this nation. It is not the property of The Hon. Arnhim Eustace, Mr. Parnel Campbell, Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves or any political party or individual. If any constitutional change is to take place in this country (and Vincentians will agree that there is need for change or amendment to our present constitution), then the Government in office must take the initiative and responsibility to ensure that that change or amendment takes place. That is why the ULP Government which is in office at the present time took the initiative six years ago and set up the Constitutional Review Commission to solicit the views of Vincentians at home and abroad and to produce a document that will guide this country in the 21st century. This was a democratic process involving representation from every sector of society.

It must be mentioned here that throughout history God raised up leaders at particular times and moments in history to carry out specific tasks and to deal with specific issues of national interest. In our context, George H. Charles was the man at the moment when universal adult suffrage was introduced here in the 1950’s. Ebenezer Theodore Joshua led us through the critical transition period after the demise of the West Indian Federation. Milton Cato is now regarded as the father of our independence. James Mitchell was there to help us consolidate our independence. Arnhim Eustace guided us at the turn of the new millennium. Ralph Gonsalves is the man “at such a time as this” preparing us for constitutional change. Each leader has made and is making his unique contribution to national development. I invite you, therefore, to see the constitutional change-process through these lenses and not as something belonging to Ralph Gonsalves, Arnhim Eustace or Parnel Campbell.

I must also make it abundantly clear that the views of every citizen cannot be incorporated in a constitution and every suggestion made by persons may not merit inclusion in a constitution. Can you imagine ten thousand Vincentians and all interest groups demanding that their views be included in the constitution? What a document that would be! Therefore, the views included in the constitution ought to be those which serve the national interest and the common good.

I am saddened by the fact that the main Opposition Party started the process and opted out part of the way. I am in agreement with their former leader Sir. James Mitchell that they should not have pulled themselves away from the discussions. Had they remained in the discussion there would have been opportunity to discuss the disputed areas and probably a compromise could have been arrived at. But there was no real possibility for compromise since, for reasons known only to them, they removed themselves from the process. It’s a real pity that the document could not have been put to the nation with the blessing of the two major political parties, and it will be a sad, sad day for this country if the document does not succeed.

Some people ask questions like: What’s in the constitution for me? Will the constitution create more jobs for poor people? Will I continue to receive my pension from Britain or will I be able to go there as I do now if the Queen is no longer Head of State? Let me answer the first question by saying that everything in the constitution is for all of us, for every citizen. But I see the questions in a wider context. They are “bread and butter” questions. Some people ask them genuinely and they honestly want to know how they will benefit from the new Constitution, or how it will affect them personally. Those of us who know better must not try to make political mileage out of the questions people ask. We have a responsibility to enlighten them, to dispel their darkness, not to deepen it. To use people’s ignorance (by ignorance I mean lack of knowledge) to gain political advantage is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty. We must be honest and frank with people, and tell them the truth.

I must point out also that a Constitution is a dynamic document which is subject to change. It is not like the “Law of the Medes and Persians” that cannot change. Whenever certain sections in the proposed constitution no longer serve our interest or are insufficient to our needs we can change or amend those sections. There are sections in our present constitution which militate against good governance and that is the reason why we are changing to a new constitution. We are living in a changing world and there are new challenges that confront us day by day. Therefore, it becomes necessary at times to make constitutional adjustments to meet the new challenges. That is what we are doing now.

The last point I wish to make is that although a constitution is the supreme Law of a country, it is not a perfect document. There is no perfection on earth, although we must strive for it. This new Constitution Bill is by no means a perfect document. However, we must look for what is noble and pure and just in it. This constitution has some noble innovations that will do us well as a people of the 21st century. Therefore, the most important question I will ask myself on Referendum day is: Is this new Constitution Bill 2009 an improvement on the present constitution? Or is there anything new in it that will advance the cause of our nation? I have read the new Constitution, listened to discussions and explanations on various sections and I have come to the conclusion that the new Constitution is a far superior document to our present 1979 Constitution. In light of this conclusion, I will give it my unqualified support by voting “Yes”. And every other citizen has the right to go to the polls and vote as his or her conscience directs. My prayer is that this new Constitution will find favour with the overwhelming majority of our people on Referendum day. If this constitution fails, I feel strongly that we will be doing a grave injustice to our children, grand children and generations to come.

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