Our Readers' Opinions
August 21, 2009
The New Constitution: The referendum must be postponed!!

by Dr. Richard A. Byron-Cox 21.AUG.09

While the exigencies of my office straight-jacket me, leaving no room for personal or social life, our present constitutional process is of such historical, practical and future significance, that I would consider it a case of colossal negligence if I, and indeed all Vincentians who mouth concern for this country, using the convenient scapegoat of the “too busy” apology, take a pass from this patriotic responsibility.{{more}} It is no exaggeration to say that this represents a most crucial point in our development, the result of which no Vincentian could or would be immunized against. Yes, even the unborn would grow imprisoned by its chains, or journey in the paths of its vision.

Consequently, this is the first of what I hope will be a series taking a deeper look at the draft prepared by P.R. Campbell QC (a friend I hold in the highest esteem), and the sages of the CRC, and, was blessed by our political high priest Ralph. This piece is of necessity, one of general introduction concerned with the referendum, for this exercise, important as it is, leaves much to be desired.

It’s clear that this process is a hostage to party politics. If ever there was an instance when Ralph and Arnhim should be practical men of patriotic affairs it’s now. But they are so consumed with being practical men of party affairs that this is reduced to just another of their chess games. The tragedy is they have many verbose party vassals delighting in this encomium moriae and so relish being pawns on their chessboard. But this exercise is too important a matter of life to be subjected to leaders’ and parties’ interests. This constitution cannot, must not be about ULP and NDP divisions, and which shall ultimately prevail. Ralph and Arnhim must this time temper their egos, put away the chessboard, and resolve to demonstrate the national leadership that is so solely needed at this hour. Their obsession of checkmating each other evidences political shortsightedness and obstacles the collaboration needed to help ensure the adoption of a constitution that enhances the nobility of our people.

Secondly, there is this very serious time problem. Taking into consideration the fundamental importance, nature and eventual consequences of this exercise; recognising the limited literacy of a significant part of the populace; considering that it took us six years to get to this stage. Add to the mix that a “fine tooth comb” review of the draft should be imperative. The question must be asked: why this sudden rush? My considered view is that we need a minimum of one year for adequate national deliberations. During this period every effort must be made to make the draft the topic of discourse in every rum shop and cubbyhole, in every castle in Queen’s Drive and every 2 by 4 plywood casita up at Trigger Ridge in Redemption Sharpes. Yes, even the breadfruit-mentality posse and the untutored and uncultured ghetto youth, must have the chance to scrutinize not just the chapters, sections and sub-sections; but every paragraph and line, indeed every word. This exercise is not some unwanted pregnancy that must be aborted within 3 months as the health of the mother could be endangered. It is indeed quite the contrary. The referendum must be postponed!! That’s is the only way to do justice to this process.

There is need for the Civil Society Organisations to do detailed studies of the draft, if only in areas of direct interest to them. Unions like SVGTU and PSU must dissect sections on the different service commissions. The police organisation, the NYC, the women’s organisations and the so-called human rights bunch, must all help to ensure that their members are educated on their specific issues if not on the entire document. The new constitution shall legally (as opposed to Biblically) be John 1.1 as guarantor of the interests and rights of all. For these organisations to refuse to participate aggressively in this process is a gross dereliction of duty and grave social negligence, which might boomerang with detrimental consequences.

Legal gurus PR Campbell, A. Cummings and B. Commissiong all QCs; along with Jomo have publicly expressed opinions. However, the Bar Association as a body seems dumb, deaf and blind to the process. This is unpardonable! A constitution is a legal document and lawyers are the most qualified to educate the Mass on the real meaning of its contents. Legal language is rather particular and trained interpreters are always necessary for correct understanding. The Bar Association which many baselessly or otherwise, see as a fraternity of crooks, should appreciate that this is a moment necessitating that it acts pro bono publico, if only to ensure that we set a proper foundation for justice, rights and duties in this land. Senso Stricto, its behaviour cannot be considered abandonment of legal responsibility; but it certainly reflects a lack of genuine concerns for the society and citizens who full their coffers.

In this review process we must be concerned not only with what is in the draft and what should not be there. We must pay great attention to what is not in it and should be. Jomo shared some ideas as regards the latter in a recent piece. But there are still other issues, for example I believe that multilateral international treaties should only become laws for SVG after parliamentary consideration and sanction, as opposed to the de facto law-making power of Cabinet as obtains now. This is just one instance. The point is however, that this draft must be subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny. The year is needed.

This Constitution is about the rights, freedoms and duties of all Vincentians. Hence the need for a genuinely democratic process, that is as comprehensive and exhaustive as possible. The 97 Version was a combination of British disregard for and Cato’s arrogance towards us. This is our chance to make through a process of exchange, discussions, education and learning, a constitution that answers to our aspirations. We vow to keep SVG “ever free.” To her we pledge “love, loyalty and devotion.” This process is truly a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give legal substance to these idealist lofty thoughts. It is therefore incumbent on each to using his own deliberate judgement; determine his yes or no on the draft. It is tremendously important to listen to Ralph, Arnhim, Jomo, PR and all others, but the decision must be yours after deep study and reflection. Oh, as regards the opinions of Richard Byron-Cox, these are of no greater significance than any other. Therefore, I don’t have the gall to tell you how to vote.