Dr. Fraser- Point of View
April 15, 2005
CRC final report – continuing the dialogue

Despite the caption, ‘FINAL REPORT’, the CRC does not conceive of finality and suggests that there are a number of things that need to be done before completion of a ‘Revised Final Report’.

During that period the dialogue is expected to continue. Perhaps the most intriguing of the recommendations made is that relating to the establishment of a NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL OF ELDERS (NACE). I want to use this occasion to raise some other questions on this innovative body, which to some extent is really a different version of a Senate. What has been taxing my mind is how would this body work? {{more}}

Certainly there is need for a great deal of discussion on this. As I noted before, we are not dealing with a tabula rasa situation. We have to try to imagine how any new institution or recommendation will work in the context of a political culture that will have to accommodate it. This is certainly not to assume that no new idea will work or that one has to change the political culture before doing anything innovative. It is to ensure that we take this into account and not to assume that anything written on paper can easily be translated into reality. Logistics have to be considered and fine tuning undertaken. In this era when there is so much concern about governance we have, obviously, to devise new instruments to address the shortcomings of the political system and one has therefore to compliment the Commission for its efforts in this regard.

One accepts the thinking behind the idea of NACE, that is, finding a forum through which the ‘collective wisdom and life experiences of mentally alert retirees’ can be placed at the disposal of the nation. I raise again the matter of the composition of that body.

In the category of members as of right, is it that once the persons in this category are available and willing to serve they are automatically selected or do we also need to impose some other criteria? I am suggesting too that we look at the question of numbers for certainly in this category there will be a fluctuation of membership. Persons in this category are supposed to be former Heads of State, former Heads of Government and former Judges of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice. At present, apart from a former head of Government I do not believe that any of the others currently exist. Furthermore, I am not sure how many Judges have been citizens and residents of this country and therefore would have qualified.

Would a former head of government coming out of a very contentious political environment and who still maintains ties to the party of which he was a part be suddenly transformed into a different being operating in a non-partisan manner. Really this is going to have to relate to the individual rather than to the position he/she holds. Again I pose the question, are the persons in those categories based on the positions they held to be automatic choices? Shouldn’t we demand more?

Regarding persons eligible for selection by the National Assembly there are five categories. How is this going to work practically? Here is where a decision will have to be made about numbers. Would all categories be represented at all times? Would the National Assembly be asked to work out its own criteria for making the selection? There are five categories listed, with the last being ‘Other Citizens’. Should we not qualify ‘Other Citizens? What seems to be suggested here is that the National Assembly will select persons from the other four categories and then somehow for category five decide on others who do not fit into those categories. But for whom would they be looking?

The first category which lists legal personnel ends with an etc. I am not sure what that means or who else in that category are missing or is it put in the event that some other component is omitted or created? There is nothing, for example, to suggest that a former Registrar, Magistrate or Superintendent of prisons will necessarily fit the bill, as it is with the others. According to what is written, anyone except perhaps for prisoners/criminals or the mentally deranged is available for selection. Let us come up with some criteria to qualify and inform possible selection from among those who were former office holders. And note, of course, that this is in addition to any office/position held? We might be going about it in the wrong way if we have to concentrate on finding persons in those categories regardless of whether or not they are suitable. This is based on the assumption that all the categories are to be included.

When mention is made of elders who are to constitute NACE, we are told that ‘elders’ is not to be taken in the narrow age-related sense. Thirty is therefore given as the minimum age and presumably the minimum age when an individual can be said to be possessed of maturity of judgment. Will it be a contradiction to suggest youth representatives? I know that youths are included in the civil society category in the National Assembly of which five representatives are to be elected by civil society bodies. But unless we specify bodies that are always to be represented it does not follow automatically that youths would be selected. Although faith based institutions are to be represented in the National Assembly they are not included in NACE unless, perhaps, they qualify under Civil Society leaders. Perhaps there needs to be a recommendation about the numbers that constitute NACE and an agreement reached or an explanation given as to whether or not all categories are to be automatically represented. Some suggestions should be made about criteria outside of the holding of office or membership of a body.

To be continued next week.