April 1, 2005

An open university – A people’s Parliament

The Parliament – established Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) marked the completion of the substantial part of its work with the launching of yet another booklet last Wednesday.

This was not just another booklet, but the Final Report of the Commission which was presented to the Speaker of the House of Assembly on February 28, 2005. {{more}}Parliament has since given permission for the publication of the booklet and the CRC has faithfully complied, by the public launching, covered live on radio and television, by presenting those in attendance with copies of the Report, and then by making it available to the general public, including at all Post Offices, at the ridiculously low price of $2.00 each.

The Report itself is a monumental work of which not only the CRC, but Parliament and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, can be justly proud. In its scope and depth, it has placed SVG on the map and blazed a pioneering trail in constitutional reform that many are sure to follow. It is now up to Parliament itself, and above all, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to complete the process and ensure a democratic, made-in- SVG Constitution.

In order for this to be accomplished, SVG will first have to become a veritable “Open University”, with citizens reading, studying and digesting the Commission’s recommendations. Then, a process of open debate and inter- active discussions in the media, in the home, at community and social gatherings, etc. All must be encouraged, no matter what the limitation, to take part. Those who cannot read must be provided with the opportunity to hear the recommendations by radio or on television, and to respond to them, either in conversations with friends or neighbours or via the multitudinous call-in programmes. It will be like an Open University because such an approach can but educate and edify our people.

While our political parties compete for power at the next elections, they cannot, and must not be allowed to, ignore the constitutional debate. Party groups, women’s and youth wings of the parties, their General and Executive Councils, all have a responsibility to engage in the discussion and respond to the proposals of the CRC. It must become part of them as well and can only help to deepen their understanding of governance and democracy and thereby influence their behaviour in a more mature, patriotic direction.

Central to the recommendations of the CRC is the direct involvement of our citizenry, through their civil society organizations, in the governance of the country. Some of the proposals in this regard will be considered controversial in some quarters and will stir heated public debate, but that can only be good for the society as a whole. In the following weeks, I shall regularly attempt to visit some of these proposals both for the sake of publicizing them as well as to encourage wide discussion of the same.

It is this aspect of the CRC’s recommendations, why I say ” People’s Parliament”, because the intention is to develop alternative areas of political influence on decision- making, not just leaving it up to politicians and political parties. One can only hope that the Local Government Commission would move in a complementary direction, and strengthen the participation of people in governance right at the community level. Every civil society organization should see it as its duty to visit the constitutional proposals, to examine them from the objective of empowering the people of the country.

If we can follow these simple steps, if we can all make the effort to engage, then we would not only be able to advance our own level of understanding of our society and political processes, but we will be able to contribute to a national effort in that direction as well. Government has grandly announced its “literacy crusade”. What finer way to facilitate this than by integrating the constitutional reform process

into it!

As we lift our level of academic competence, so too at the same time will we be able to raise the level of our constitutional awareness, thereby making us better able to contribute to the political process. That would be the start of the making of a truly PEOPLE’s PARLIAMENT!