Dr. Fraser- Point of View
April 1, 2005
A peek at the Final Report of the CRC

I have only had a quick look at the Constitutional Review Commission’s (CRC’s) report but will make some remarks by way of thinking aloud rather than coming to any firm conclusions.

Let me, up front compliment the Commissioners on what I consider to be a splendid job. In the introduction to the Report one accepts their view that the recommendations of the report will demand ‘a further gestation period of analysis, public discussion, and refinement before being debated in parliament.’ {{more}}A lot of details involving the mechanisms to ensure the proper functioning of some of the recommendations will have to be worked out and some costing done with regard to the innovations recommended.

The Commissioners demonstrated an understanding of some of the critical issues within which to ground their proposals for a new constitution. The question of cost is an issue and I note the point that we will have ‘to subject constitutional reform proposals to careful cost-benefit analyses.’ Then there is the issue of political culture which is raised as a matter of context. As is stated, “It is easy to become purely theoretical and to forget that one is dealing with real people who have real life experiences developed in a particular social, cultural and political environment.” The ideals therefore have to be balanced with the existing realities. I have always maintained that it is people who have to make constitutions work, so that in the final analysis the state at which people are and the existing culture would influence how this functions. We have been living with a constitution that was really a refinement of the old colonial constitutions. We were colonial subjects and had to adhere to it and were brainwashed into believing that it was the ultimate. We have for a long time lived with such a constitution and our thinking and frame of reference have been influenced by it. Perhaps this is a case where the chicken needs to come before the egg. One thing that has always bothered me is the relationship with the local government proposals which was the task of a different body and of a different process. The CRC is trying to shape a new kind of political environment within which local government would have of necessity to be located. But it appears that the local government proposals are being shaped in a traditional kind of atmosphere. Would they be out of sync?

The Commission’s fundamental objectives were listed as the deepening and strengthening of democratic values and practices; minimizing or eliminating ‘political tribalism’ and the efforts to provide a meaningful framework for the involvement of civil society. The most innovative recommendation had to do with the inclusion and role of civil society in governance. The idea of NACE is an interesting one, but the mechanism for its operation needs to be looked at. How big a body will it be and how exactly will it be selected? Would the persons in the category with members ‘as of right’ automatically find a place? Would the National Assembly be given guidelines or would it develop its own guidelines for selecting the members?

I have some concerns about the addition of another layer of government and the costs that might be involved. Is there also a potential for conflict/deadlock between the Central Executive and NACE, despite the fact that it is largely an advisory body? In such a case, what happens? I note that NACE is allowed to advise on matters of state that it may in its own deliberate judgment deem appropriate. NACE can also decline to advise on any matter referred to it but is not bound to give reasons for doing so. Why not? Everything should be above board and it would forestall any suspicions if reasons are given. Of concern to me, too, is the increase in the number of geographical constituencies. We are already out of line with this. Why 17 in a country with a population of about 107, 000, even allowing for our geography? Representatives of civil society are also eligible for ministerial appointments. In this case, to whom are they accountable- the cabinet of which they have become a part or the particular grouping that selected them? How will they work?

I am in full agreement with the proposals for the participation of civil society but there is a lot of work to be done to make this workable and fruitful. Let us use the National Council of Women as an example. They would be part of a grouping. Is that grouping the broad constituency? In this case, women or is it limited to persons who are registered and paid up members of the body? I make this point because some civil society organizations represent only a minute section of their constituency. What is there to prevent a group of persons forming a body and claiming to speak on behalf of that constituency it represents in theory? We need to do a lot of work in this area for they might even be operating in a very democratic manner.

The involvement of the diaspora in our overall development needs to be strengthened but the question is how? I have some reservations about the recommendations made here. It is easy to speak about audio-visual teleconferencing technology but there is a cost involved. This is however not my real point of contention. Their representatives would have the right to vote on issues in situations where they might not be privy to the real issues on the ground and the thinking of people in the country. It is also not clear to me how you get a delegate to represent Vincentians in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, the Far East, etc.?     

Really, some of my concerns have to do with developing appropriate mechanisms to make some of the recommendations a reality, rather than with the recommendations themselves.

•To be continued!