July 20, 2007
House sends clear message on Council of Elders


A central pillar of the recommendations submitted to parliament by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) has been shot down on all sides.

As parliamentarians debated the final draft report earlier this week in the House of Assembly, it was clear that the CRC’s recommendation for the establishment of a National Advisory Council of Elders (NACE) would not fly with lawmakers on either side of the house.{{more}}

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace made this abundantly clear.

“I don’t intend, under any circumstance to support NACE,” Eustace said during his contribution to the debate.

He said that there were other avenues whereby elders can make a contribution without such a council being set up.

According to the CRC’s report, the NACE would consist of former heads of state, judges, senior judicial or law enforcement officers, former members of parliament, civil society leaders and other citizens.

These councilors would have the crucial role of submitting nominations for candidates for the posts of President, Chairpersons of the various service commissions and assuming the role currently held by the Mercy Committee.

The CRC also envisions the NACE advising generally on matters referred to the council by the Head of State, The National Assembly (House of Assembly), Prime Minister, Minority Leader (opposition leader) and the Ombudsman.

“NACE should be, in a sense, the conscience of the nation, providing stability, continuity and guidance on the critical issues of the day” states the report.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves however noted that while he had no problem with NACE philosophically he would have framed such an idea in a different form and with different authority.

A representative of the CRC told SEARCHLIGHT following the first day of the debate that it was important to remember that the recommendations captured the pulse of the people following the many public fora that were held prior to the drafting of the recommendations.

In a similar vein, the idea of seven members representing civil society in what would be an expanded House of Assembly (27 members) to be known as the National Assembly, has also been rejected.

“I find that insulting to say the least, all members elected to the parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines have the same concerns as people in civil society,” said the opposition leader.

It was the general chorus of the parliamentarians that persons who wish to serve in the House of Assembly should be willing to go through the rigors of the political process.

Responding to the premise that the suggestion of civil society representation in the House of Assembly is aimed at reducing partisanship in politics, Dr Gonsalves said that a competitive party system is by nature partisan.

“The question is whether the partisanship is going to be destructive,” he said, adding “Partisanship is only bad when it is destructive.”

The Prime Minister said that it would be more beneficial to have civil society representatives or distinguished citizens be allowed to make presentations in the National Assembly on various bills at the invitation of the Speaker, the Prime Minister or the Minority Leader.

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made a case for a proportional representative list system.

With this system, in addition to the representatives elected by constituencies, other Assembly members would be elected based on the percentage of the popular vote.

Dr Gonsalves said that such a change will make it impossible for there to be a repeat of the 1989 situation when the New Democratic Party under Sir James Mitchell swept the polls, winning all 15 seats.

Dr Gonsalves said that using the proportional representative list system second to the First Pass The Polls system, an opposition party that gets as much as 30% of the votes (what the Labour Party won in 1989) is ensured of having representation in the National Assembly even though they don’t win any seats.

According to the CRC’s report the number of constituencies will also increase from 15 to 17.