R. Rose
August 17, 2007

I mourn for SVG

I was honoured to have been part of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and to have participated in the exhaustive process that led up to its final Report. My one regret is that work related demands somewhat restricted my input especially where attendance at meetings was concerned.{{more}} But for me, it has been a most enriching, ennobling, enabling and humbling exercise. There were the intra-CRC exchanges, heated at times, but moreso having to face the people of SVG, of all persuasions and ages, in Fitz Hughes, Mustique, Sandy Bay, Reading, Brooklyn, the Virgin Islands or Barbados, posed the greatest challenges.

Fortunately we never went with a blueprint for a “constitution but sought to act as a catalyst to generate ideas”. Not surprisingly for SVG, many of our know-it-alls and intellectuals declined to grace the CRC with their presence or wisdom but we soldiered on nevertheless hoping to at least set a process in motion which as the ball rolled along, would accumulate the experience and absorb the vision of our people for a basic guideline to the supreme law of our land. The rest would be left to the mechanisms chosen by the highest law-making bodies, Parliament, and ultimately by the crème de la crème, the PEOPLE themselves in a referendum.

The process like all others was not with out its weaknesses, some of which have been pointed out in the media. But that the CRC was able to carry out its tasks is to its eternal credit. No praise can be too high for the efforts of its indefatigable Chairman, Mr. P.R. Campbell and within the CRC as a whole, a group of selfless hard workers without whom the Final Report would not have been possible. Yet Campbell has been much maligned with those unable to raise a constitutional point hanging on to ghosts from the past, imagined or real. His statesmanship in staying above this says much for his mettle.

Now after all of this, the side-bashing by some, including top public servants who considered the exercise a waste of time and money, the Final Report was put into the hands of those who commissioned it, the parliamentarians. As a realist and an experienced political activist, I expected debate, criticism, alternative viewpoints. But perhaps I have not been following Parliament’s own deliberations. The first set of reactions I heard from the MPs left me completely befuddled as to why did they commit themselves to Constitutional Reform in the first place. It is not fundamental change that they spoke about but tinkering and underlying it all is a FEAR of providing any mechanism which would expose their own limitations and thus erode their perception of being powerful.

For too long our MPs have been drawn from people who may have been popular in a particular constituency (sometimes in one area of it) and whose image a party feels that it can spruce up enough to sell to the constituency as a whole. Some are successful but seem to forget that it is not they, as individuals why they are in parliament. The standing of the party and its leader and the unpopularity of its rivals are as much factors in the equation.

All of a sudden these parliamentarians, especially on the governing side, become all but demi gods. Every little thing must go through them. They expose themselves to gossip, and tell-tales which often end up in some form of discrimination against those who do not toe the line, and even avoidance of those who may be critical either of policies or bad implementation of good policies. They surround themselves with those whose praises they would like to hear. Not just now, not just in 2000, but in 1990 and 1984 and 1978 and 1969. The end product we all know.

But the world is changing. The narrow pool from which we draw our cabinet has proven palpably deficient. No matter how good Cato or Mitchell or Eustace or Gonsalves have been, or are, they have to carry along a lot of dead weight, a relic of our political system. They have to carry along persons who have sacrificed their own livelihoods and therefore whose eyes are fixed on MPs Pensions and Gratuities. They have to function with a large part of society, outside the secret order they call Cabinet which, by their own admission, ends up to be Prime Ministerial rule. Whatever their fears (and they should not be afraid to express them in public) this is a recipe for disaster in the 21st century. How can we by being inclusive, give our country and by extension of our people a better chance of survival? Does one have to join a political party to be able to have a real voice in policy determination?