Our Readers' Opinions
June 5, 2009
Larger, yet immature Constitution. We deserve better!


Editor: Finally! The draft Constitution was laid before the public in the House of Parliament last Thursday, May 28th. A large document, 164 pages long, with 273 clauses spread out over 21 chapters. Although larger in size than the old document, it is yet immature in ideology and well deserving of a “no” vote come November if significant enhancements are not made to it.{{more}} Though possessing some good points, it is disappointing that the guiding philosophy of this document did not go far enough to enshrine the full protection of our rights and freedoms and to establish a republic that is totally divorced from everything monarchial. The last time I checked, the draft Constitution does not even declare the country to be a republic!

We, the people of this country, decided to give a mandate to our Parliament to reform our Constitution. We have been cooperative with these members in this process so far. We, the people of this country, asked that the document, our nation’s highest law, be enhanced. It is the people that asked for certain recommendations to be included in our new Constitution. We have asked that you, our Parliament, design a Constitution that makes our country a real republic, that you make the changes needed to ensure that our rights and freedoms are fully enshrined in this document and that the political and governmental structures be so ordered as to reflect our full protection from Governmental abuses. It is we, the people, who employed you, our servants, to execute such a careful and privileged task. At what point have you forgotten that?

We have asked you by voice and pen that our Constitution declare our rights to be inalienable. We told you that such a term is significant for several reasons. Inalienable means that one’s rights come from your Creator and not from man. It espouses the fact that no man in Government has been given the authority to violate anyone’s rights. Further, one does not have rights because of a constitutional declaration, but because we are designed by God with these rights and, therefore, are all free from birth. Rights cannot be transferred to the Government, thus Government’s function is to protect our inalienable rights. We, therefore, saw the necessity of having this included in our preamble, since it put Government’s power in check from any attempt to abuse or violate our rights. We have asked you to make this ideal a part of the guiding spirit and principles that shape our new Constitution.

Further, we asked you to examine the constitutions of other countries, including Grenada and Trinidad. In the constitution of both countries, inalienable rights are clearly expressed. They used “inalienable”, knowing its value in describing our rights. Also, the American Revolution and independence from Britain were the results of the recognition that all men were “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”! In light of all these facts, we expected that the two draftsmen would understand the weight of having our Constitution reflect protection for “inalienable rights”. After all, the constitution of their respective countries has a description of their citizens’ rights as inalienable. The question then is: “Did the drafters describe our rights as inalienable in the Constitution they handed to Parliament?” They must have…if they did, where is it? Why is it not in the new Constitution presented to the House last week?

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is no stranger to “inalienableness”. After all, he previously declared our rights as being inalienable! You will find it in his book: “History and the future: A Caribbean Perspective” on page 45, where he wrote:

“Constitutionalism cannot exist without liberty. The Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines clearly proclaims certain basic freedoms or inalienable rights.”

So why is he now refusing to say “yes” to having such high ideal enshrined in our Constitution? Why would he see it as an appropriate description of our rights in his book, but not worthy of being enshrined in our preamble? If he, with us, is on “the quest for achieving a higher level of human civilization” through constitutional reform, should he not see the need to shake off the colonial ideals fully? Is the recommendation of the people a backward one? Does he not believe that rights are God- endowed, or is it that he shares a communistic view that rights are man-given? Was the phrase “inalienable rights” in his book written based on strong conviction? Or was it a sham? Just mere words on a piece of paper? We deserve better!

We deserve a constitution that moves our country from the ideals of our former monarchial colonizers, who believed they can take and give rights at their whims and fancies. We deserve a constitution that makes us a Republic, a mature nation state – a constitution that recognizes our rights as being part of our design through Divine endowment, as inalienable, and never to be treated otherwise. I hope to show in my next article how our draft Constitution still bears remnants of the ideological shackles of colonialism and backwardness. We deserve better!

Shefflorn Ballantyne