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A change of law that we can all agree upon…

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15.FEB.11

Editor: In this period of zero-sum partisanship and brinksmanship in SVG, the time is ripe for a piece of bipartisan, feel-good legislation that will, in the words of Prime Minister Gonsalves, “further ennoble our Caribbean Civilisation.”{{more}}

Allow me to make a humble request to legislators of both political parties: Please amend the Representation of the People Act to eliminate our Oath of Allegiance to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

During the recent swearing-in of members of the House of Assembly, I cringed every time I saw proud Vincentian men and women swearing that they “will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her Heirs and Successors.”

You will notice that our Parliamentarians do not swear their allegiance to their country, the Vincentian people, or the Constitution. Instead, they swear allegiance only to the Queen, a woman who visits our country with less frequency than hurricanes make landfall here.

The words of the Oath of Allegiance are prescribed by the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 6, Section 62, Form B. As far as I can tell, there is nothing that stops Parliament from amending the Act to change the words of that Oath.

Many independent Commonwealth countries continue to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Canada and Australia are examples of such countries. However, unlike Canada and Australia, our Oath is not spelled out in our Constitution. It is simply recited in a regular law. There is no need for a referendum or any special majority to change the words of our Oath. In fact, our Constitution simply says that:

“Until such time as the oath of allegiance, the oath of secrecy or, in relation to any office, the oath of office is prescribed by law, that oath may be taken in the form prescribed immediately before the commencement of the Constitution.”

Later on, the Constitution says “‘oath of allegiance’ means such oath of allegiance as may be prescribed by law.”

In other words, to whom or to what our parliamentarians swear allegiance is entirely up to them.

Changing the Oath will not remove the Queen as our Head of State. Our recent referendum result indicated that there is no great clamour to depart from beneath her royal frock. However, a change in the Oath would add meaning to the day-to-day deliberations and actions of our Parliamentarians. Swearing an oath to the Queen in our modern context is meaningless. But an oath to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines may remind our elected members and senators whom they really serve. It may encourage them not to engage in esoteric political games that are as abstract as their allegiance to Elizabeth and her children. Most countries do not swear an oath to their head of state – why do we?

Changing the Oath will not affect our status as a Commonwealth country, either. The Commonwealth states of India, Nigeria, Ghana, and Trinidad and Tobago, to name a few, all make their parliamentarians swear or affirm allegiance to their respective countries, peoples, and/or constitutions.

Our National Heroes day is approaching. Our lone National Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, is revered by Vincentians precisely because he valiantly refused to subject himself or his people to subjugation by a British monarch.

What better tribute to our National Hero than for Parliament, in their 3rd March sitting, to revise the words of our Oath of Allegiance? I can think of no better opportunity for national reconciliation than for all of our Parliamentarians, on 14th March, to stand together and publicly recite their new pledge of faith and allegiance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, her citizens, and their vow to uphold SVG’s Constitution and laws, to the best of their ability, so help them God.

Vincy Patriot
vincypatriot@hotmail.com

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