The massive outpouring of national grief, respect and tributes after the passing of Bro. Parnel Campbell provides us with an opportunity to reflect on his legacy and those aspects of his work still left unfinished through no fault of his. If we were inclined to dodge that responsibility, his son Daniel did not mince words during the funeral service by throwing out an open challenge to his listeners to complete the constitutional reform process to which PR was so firmly committed.
Much as he would have appreciated all the tributes, this call to action must have warmed the heart of the patriotic warrior. For all his impressive accomplishments, PR must have yearned for a revisiting of the constitutional review if only to finally sever the umbilical cord which continues to bind us as subjects of the British monarchy. He is not alone in that desire.
Moreover, the constitutional reform process he envisaged was not just replacing the British monarch as our Head of State, but a substantially deeper process which covered our political and legal institutions and even social ones at that. Most of these are covered in the proposals for a new Constitution for our country, regrettably rejected in the 2009 referendum, but for him there were other considerations, compromised in the process of arriving at a consensus in the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) which he expertly led.
There were spin-offs at well, very relevant to our quest for a post-colonial society. One of these, a continuing casualty of post-referendum politics, is that of a system of National Honours. Strangely, PR went to his grave, like many other outstanding Vincentians, without a National Honour to his credit, all because we have been unable to institute one of our own.
The other major regret that he must have had was the failure on the part of his beloved country, and region for that matter, to replace the British Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal. He was a firm advocate of our Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and felt elated at the elevation of distinguished Vincentian jurist, the Hon. Justice Adrian Saunders to head the CCJ.
Constitutional reform has been placed on the backburner since the referendum, the outcome of which was as bitter a blow to PR as it was to patriots like me. For those of us who toiled so hard to advance the process, the most inclusive one ever practised in the Caribbean, it was doubly hard to swallow. So much hard work, effort, dedication and sacrifice were involved. The CRC Commissioners and their support staff worked extremely hard to produce the final recommendations. We could have done with much more support from the governmental machinery and from both political parties.
The late Bro. PR gave constitutional reform his all. I was part of the CRC delegation which visited the UK for discussions with Vincentians there, and I can attest to his unbridled enthusiasm. I particularly remember in one of our discussions, PR was so much into answering questions that we almost missed the last train back to London.
Sadly, the constitutional reform process was stalled, blocked by a sea of lies orchestrated by PR’s own former colleagues in the NDP, and the counterproductive strategy of using the referendum for partisan political advantage, a “dry run” for the 2010 elections. If all those politicians who have been extolling PR are serious, then the greatest tribute they can pay is to try and find common ground, a basis for resuming the reform process. It is politically possible, if only the will exists.
It is a pity that civil society today is not as influential as it was a decade and a half ago, but it can at least lend its voice in support, and demand that both sides of Parliament find the way to resume our decolonization process. We owe it to PR , our country and our children’s future.
Our current constitutional status is being used as an excuse for the absence of National Honours as well. It is a shame, for over the years there are many Vincentians who have, at great personal sacrifice, made outstanding contributions to our country’s development. Yet, save for those recommended by government to the office of the British monarch, the others go unrewarded at a national level. Is that acceptable for a modern nation?
Just two weeks ago, a female pioneering sporting and community activist, Sister Shirley Lynch, was laid to rest. Where are the honours for her lifetime of service to this country? It is the same for a host of others-Lennox ‘Scully’ Hunte, Alexis ‘Lexie’ Joseph, Owen Ralph and now retired ASP Jonathan Nicholls of Christmas Carolling, Pan Against Crime and Nine Mornings fame, to name a few in the cultural field –no National honours. NBC Radio’s Nina Maloney, Randy’D’ Dopwell, and Evans ‘EB’ John; Gloria Ballantyne, Tyrone ‘Tweety’ Spence and Owen ‘Manning’ Jackson in sport went unrewarded too.
Even politicians like the late John Horne and Yvonne Francis-Gibson, who made contributions before their political stint, have gone without a national honour. Recently it was a regional institution that honoured our musical genius Frankie McIntosh. How long will we continue to accept this?
The challenge lies before us. Will we again shirk before our duty?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.