Our Readers' Opinions
November 13, 2009
A defining moment for SVG and our caribbean civilisation

By Camillo Gonsalves 13.NOV.09

The world is watching.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, like most other small island states, can sometimes be very insular. We often look inward, ignoring the ever-changing cultural, economic, ideological and social tides that wash our shores. Oftentimes, we are shaped by unwelcome external intruders: climate change, banana regimes, oil prices, financial crises, drugs and guns all show up on our doorstep uninvited, and we are forced to react and adapt to these changing circumstances. Rarely have we, Vincentians, been the proactive agents of international change. Rarely have we set the standard that other countries feel compelled to follow.{{more}}

We have one of those rare opportunities on November 25. Constitution Day will be a date with destiny not just for SVG, but also for our entire Caribbean Civilisation.

As we look inwards and contemplate our own home-grown Constitution, we cannot forget that regional eyes are also upon us. Belize, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago are all in early stages of their own constitutional reform processes, and they are watching, with bated breath, to see how we handle ourselves in this most momentous undertaking. Other Caribbean countries are on the threshold of similar reforms.

In Trinidad and Tobago, a draft “working document” on constitutional reform has been laid in Parliament for further national discussion. In Belize, reforms are underway to replace the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice and to allow for Belizians with dual citizenship to run for office.

The Saint Lucian Constitutional Reform Commission, following in the footsteps of our own CRC, is currently meeting with its Diaspora to solicit views on what should be included in their new constitution.

In Jamaica, the government has again taken up constitutional reform, beginning with proposals for a new Charter of Rights. They are also discussing reforms surrounding removal of the Privy Council, allowing for dual citizens to run for elections, appointment of a president as head of state, and re-examining how senators are selected and apportioned.

Dr. Peter Phillips, a member of the opposition PNP, praised the Parliament for its approach to constitutional reform, saying that “[a] new constitution will not solve all our problems, but it can give a sense of new beginning.” Dr. Phillips also criticised those who continually seek to delay this essential process, saying:

“The length of time that it has taken is symptomatic of some of the ills that have plagued our political process, not least of which has been excessive partisanship and the search for political one-upmanship.”

Clearly, then, we are not alone in our quest to revitalise our constitutional structure and shake off some of its lingering colonial impositions. Nor are we alone in struggling with backward elements that hold the nation-building process to ransom for the sake of political one-upmanship. However, as the regional leaders in this process – the first to begin, the first to complete, the first to go to referendum – we have a special responsibility to chart the course that other members of our Caribbean Civilisation will follow.

Our success on November 25 will embolden and encourage our sisters in CARICOM to complete their own processes. We could set the standard for other countries to follow. However, our failure could have a disastrous chilling effect on regional reform, and delay other countries’ efforts indefinitely – further constraining our Civilisation to additional years of humiliation in the colonial wilderness before we can again find the courage to enter the promised land of constitutional reform and independence.

We will either be the leaders or the laggards in regional constitutional reform. If we fail on November 25, the other CARICOM countries that we have led to this point will ultimately pass us by. They will recreate their constitutions in their own respective images. They will progress, the world will progress, and we will stand stubbornly in place as a constitutional backwater in our own region. It is unlikely that any Vincentian government in the near future will wish to spend the time and money to conceive another constitution, only to see it arrive stillborn.

Today, we walk a tightrope between progress and backward stagnation. Between courage and cowardice. Between base partisanship and enlightened leadership. Between passive serfdom and liberating patriotism. Between cynical, selfish dishonesty and better angels of our nature.

As the world watches us, we teeter between being the leaders, or the laughingstock, of our Caribbean Civilisation.

In his farewell address as the first President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed:

“The name American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism. . . It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.”

The same can equally be said today of the name “Vincentian.” I have no doubt, that on Constitution Day, the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will rise to the occasion, fully aware of their overarching responsibilities to themselves, to their country, to their Civilisation, to their children, and to history itself.

As we face this defining moment, only a vote of “Yes” will ensure our rightful place among progressive peoples who choose to shape their future instead of letting it be shaped for them. Only a vote of “Yes” will chart the path to the further ennoblement of our Caribbean brothers and sisters, who expect nothing less of us.