R. Rose
September 11, 2009

The birth of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) ushered in a period of hope for a new approach to national issues. For the first time on any major issue, both Parliamentary parties were in the same boat. After all the strife, rancour and partisan division, it seemed that the real wishes of our people, long suppressed by the covers of political tribalism, were at last emerging on a national platform.{{more}} The motion to establish the CRC had bipartisan support, both Parties not only consented to send representatives but also were apparently content to be numerically inferior to civil society representation, organized civil groups being by far the largest component of the CRC.

This augured well for a non-partisan approach to such a vital issue. Sure, they would be, and were, heated exchanges of views, but by and large these were respectful and within the ambit of a national, democratic CRC. The enthusiasm so generated was manifested in the work of the CRC itself, meeting twice per week, often for long hours, with remuneration neither commensurate with effort nor readily available. I know of one female commissioner who would often not put her fellow Commissioners out of the way to get a ride home (rural) but would wait outside Cable and Wireless for public transportation, such was her commitment to the cause and consideration for others.

Never in our history has any extra-Parliamentary body expended so much effort and energy on such an exhaustive national task. (Nor, I dare say, has any Parliamentary body of which I am aware). Patience, tolerance, respect for the views of others, willingness to seek national consensus, were all put to the test, as were some egos. Whatever the shortcomings, I cannot help but take enormous pride in having participated in such an exercise. The poisoned political atmosphere of the day has given rise to much negative criticism of CRC Chairman P.R. Campbell (who succeeded current Dominican President Nicholas Liverpool), but one cannot deny his herculean and tireless efforts to ensure that the CRC mandate was fulfilled. We may disapprove of his style, disagree with the end product, but it is blatantly an act of national ingratitude not to show appreciation for his steadfast commitment.

This is in no way means that all was smooth sailing, any such process was bound to encounter hiccups on the way. One major constraint was the provision of adequate financial and logistical support. Many times the skeleton staff of the CRC could not be paid on time, in spite of broad Parliamentary approval. Much unpaid work, unrecognized contribution and unrewarded effort went into the process as well. The CRC was particularly blessed with understanding employees and these workers, too, must be fully recognized and appreciated for going beyond the call of duty.

The lofty assurances of PM Gonsalves, the early support from the Opposition Leader and the entreaties of Chairman Campbell could not always provide keys to the treasury in a timely manner. This created some frustration as it always does in relation to the wider public. Added to this was the contrast on the part of the political parties between word and deed. Their leadership had embarked, in Parliament, on a joint approach to Constitution-making, yet while member organizations of the CRC were expected/required to consult and discuss with their membership, one never got the impression that the political parties themselves felt similarly obliged. It appears to me that from the consultations held, their ordinarily very vocal supporters were conspicuously absent and, it might have missed me, but did any of the Big Ps hold any national consultation on the constitution review? Even the party representatives on the CRC seemed at times not to have been given any clear mandate, but maybe that’s how the system works.

The CRC’s efforts at community consultation, including in the Diaspora were commendable. In fact it is often misunderstood that the main contents of the CRC’s recommendations emanated from these discussions themselves. They raised hopes and expectations which would have been difficult to fulfill in prevailing political circumstances.

Those of negative persuasions were put on the back foot hiding behind the curtains until an opportunity came to find some political bandwagon on which to climb. The end product of the process and the complicated political climate has provided the excuses.


Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.