March 13, 2009
Maturing the political process


With the institution of official activities to commemorate National Heroes and Heritage Month, St. Vincent and the Grenadines took one significant step along the road of political maturity and advancement.{{more}}

Though achieving independence in 1979, our country, like many of its neighbours in the region, were not quite able to throw off the shackles of colonial rule where recognition of our history and heritage was concerned. There are still insufficient symbols of sovereignty, and national pride is still not at a satisfactory level. Even a common understanding of our history is still to be realized, undermining efforts to forge a united nation. At independence, we were still a people weaned on the history and heritage of others, alien to our own experience.

It took more than two decades following independence before we began to correct these quirks of history. Continuous civil and political pressure resulted in an initial recognition in the Mitchell era that the “Discovery Day” holiday was both historically wrong and politically insulting, especially given the proud history of Callinago resistance to foreign conquest. Yet at the time, we got no further than a declaration of January 22 as St. Vincent and the Grenadines Day. Fortunately, we were able to go one step further, first in 2001, with the recognition of March 14 as National Heroes Day, and the granting of an official public holiday the year after.

It is perhaps fitting that as we mark National Heritage Month, our historical treasure chest is being enriched by the discovery of precious archaeological findings, that not only point to civilization here in St. Vincent long before Columbus’ journeys, but also help to further bury the myth of our history beginning on some date in 1498. These are findings dating back to the time of Christ’s physical presence on earth. Our continued journey along the path of decolonization and self-discovery will in time, put all these developments in their proper perspective.

Decolonisation is however more than a cultural and historical process. There needs to be concrete structural and political changes to underpin and sustain this process. The achievement of political independence was one step along this road, but experience has shown that there is no finality about this. Our constitutional and political structures need to be constantly upgraded to keep pace both with a rapidly changing world and with the aspirations of our own people. The exercise of democracy changes in form, in a world of incredible technological advancement, particularly in information technology.

For all these reasons, the decision to embark on a course of constitutional reform is totally justified and appropriate. That is why it met with unanimous approval in Parliament at the outset, even though partisan political differences have since soured the consensus. It is to be hoped that common sense, maturity and national goodwill triumph in the end. We therefore welcome the announcement that concrete progress is being made in the form of the appointment of official drafters for the new Constitution. At the same time one can only hope that the Opposition will live up to its responsibility by naming a representative to the Drafting Commission. The very display of partisanship around the framing of a new Constitution underlines the necessity for fundamental changes in this regard.

As we commemorate another National Heroes Day, let us make the correct linkages between our historical past, our cultural legacy and a more democratic and participatory future as represented by constitutional change.