Have St Lu­cians heard the last of the Suzie d’Au­vergne Re­port?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

Surely the most re­cent House meet­ings con­vened to dis­cuss “freely and un­chained” —to bor­row the words of the prime min­is­ter—a re­port by the Con­sti­tu­tional Re­form Com­mis­sion ex­posed as never be­fore the nor­mally masked na­ture of our politi­cians. Headed by re­tired judge Suzie d’Au­vergne, the CRC was “by unan­i­mous res­o­lu­tion dated 17 Fe­bru­ary 2004” au­tho­rized to ex­am­ine the is­land’s con­sti­tu­tion and to seek ways by which to “strengthen demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions; en­cour­age a wider and deeper par­tic­i­pa­tion by cit­i­zens in the pro­cesses of gov­ern­ment; strengthen ac­count­abil­ity of public in­sti­tu­tions and the fun­da­men­tal and ba­sic rights of cit­i­zens of Saint Lu­cia.”

The com­mis­sion also was re­quired to re­port in writ­ing its opin­ions and rec­om­men­da­tions for “pos­si­ble re­form.” It has emerged that the com­mis­sion could not start its work in earnest un­til 1 June 2006, nearly two years af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of the statu­tory in­stru­ment that had es­tab­lished it. Among the com­mis­sion’s stated rea­sons for the de­lay: “Lack of op­er­a­tional funds, ap­par­ently oc­ca­sioned by the slug­gish­ness or in­dif­fer­ence to the work of the com­mis­sion on the part of the public ser­vice.”

The CRC, “af­ter much ef­fort and con­sid­er­able frus­tra­tion,” es­tab­lished a web­site in the last quar­ter of 2006. Much to the com­mis­sion’s “dis­may and re­gret,” the ded­i­cated tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance nec­es­sary to make the web­site in­ter­ac­tive was “never made avail­able through cen­tral gov­ern­ment.”

The gov­ern­ment was sim­i­larly tight­fisted when it came to fund­ing the pro­duc­tion and broad­cast­ing of re­lated public ser­vice an­nounce­ments. Thanks to UNDP gen­eros­ity, the com­mis­sion was fi­nally able to pro­duce not only the re­quired PSAs but also a one-hour TV doc­u­men­tary on con­sti­tu­tional re­form that could be “strate­gi­cally re-uti­lized in any even­tual ref­er­en­dum cam­paign re­form.”

Be­tween May and Oc­to­ber 2007 the CRC made “dili­gent ef­forts to en­gage young Saint Lu­cians” at sev­eral of the is­land’s schools. A pri­vately spon­sored es­say com­pe­ti­tion on “the de­sir­abil­ity and ne­ces­sity of con­sti­tu­tional re­form” was launched, with spe­cial awards for win­ners un­der and over the age of six­teen. Com­mis­sion­ers par­tic­i­pated in sev­eral “pop­u­lar ra­dio and TV call-in pro­grams” that un­cov­ered “re­mark­able public in­ter­est in the con­sti­tu­tional de­bate.” Be­gin­ning in Oc­to­ber 2007 and ex­tend­ing un­til De­cem­ber 2008 “ini­tial com­mu­nity out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties trans­formed into in­ter­ac­tive public con­sul­ta­tions.”

Com­mis­sion­ers also vis­ited and in­ter­acted with well known over­seas Saint Lu­cian com­mu­ni­ties. The com­mis­sion was “heart­ened at the level of in­ter­est dis­played in mat­ters of con­sti­tu­tional re­form.”

In its re­port sub­mit­ted to the gover­nor gen­eral in March 2011 the com­mis­sion ex­pressed its grat­i­tude for the endorsement of its ef­forts by the late and cur­rent prime min­is­ters Sir John Comp­ton and Kenny An­thony. The com­mis­sion noted that “the po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences of the post-in­de­pen­dence pe­riod have left many Saint Lu­cians won­der­ing about the func­tion­ing of their con­sti­tu­tion and the im­pli­ca­tions for their democ­racy. The po­lit­i­cal tur­moil of the 1979 pe­riod, the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tain­ties as­so­ci­ated with two gen­eral elec­tions in April 1987, the po­lit­i­cal re­tire­ment of John Comp­ton in 1996, his re­turn to power in 2006 and his death in 2007 con­sti­tute what pol­i­tics is all about. The re­al­ity is that Saint Lu­cia needs to en­joy pro­longed po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity with a new po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that will trans­form the zero-sum game of the Westminster-style model into a cul­ture of scru­tiny, trans­parency and over­sight.”

More­over: “The en­hanced po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity that will be placed in the hands of the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans as com­mit­tee mem­bers in a new par­lia­ment will force the sys­tem to ac­cept dif­fer­ent stan­dards of po­lit­i­cal be­hav­ior that are higher than those which cur­rently ex­ist. There are too many who com­plain about the process, but when faced with the real prospect of change shy away to the safe cor­ner of the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem with which they are fa­mil­iar.”

Fi­nally the com­mis­sion tossed at our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers the fol­low­ing chal­lenge: “Who will dare to change the way po­lit­i­cal busi­ness is done?”

Who in­deed? Fol­low­ing are some ex­cerpts from Saint Lu­cia’s prime min­is­ter—who pre­sum­ably had seen the need for con­sti­tu­tional ad­just­ments and, via the gover­nor gen­eral, handed the Suzie d’Au­vergne com­mis­sion its all-im­por­tant

as­sign­ment, doubt­less at great cost to taxpayers: “There are things I sup­ported in the lec­ture the­aters of the Univer­sity of the West Indies that I no longer sup­port. Why? It is only when you bring the pro­vi­sions of a con­sti­tu­tion to life that you see its strengths and its weak­nesses. I want to em­pha­size that as a small coun­try, when we are think­ing of con­sti­tu­tional re­form there are some im­per­a­tives that we have to put on the ta­ble. What­ever we are go­ing to cre­ate, at the end we have to bear in mind some sim­ple facts.

“We are a small coun­try; we are a strug­gling coun­try; we have lim­ited re­sources. When we are craft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion we have to be care­ful we can pay for it and our re­sources are suf­fi­cient to pay for the in­sti­tu­tions we are cre­at­ing. We have to be care­ful about how we nour­ish the tree of democ­racy. Democ­racy ought never to be com­plex; it must never be in­tim­i­dat­ing.”

Was the prime min­is­ter say­ing he did not know be­fore last week that there would be a cost to con­sti­tu­tional re­form? Was he say­ing the sug­gested re­forms, re­gard­less of how nec­es­sary, had to be put on hold un­til the gov­ern­ment had sur­plus funds? Did he mean to say Saint Lu­cia’s tree of democ­racy would re­main un­der­nour­ished for the fore­see­able fu­ture?

The prime min­is­ter sensed some­thing coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in the pro­pos­als of the CRC: “The dan­ger in any re­port of a con­sti­tu­tion com­mis­sion is that in its search for so­lu­tions, it can of­fer so­lu­tions that are far more com­plex than what ex­ist. We have to be care­ful that we do not im­port prin­ci­ples that will cause in­sti­tu­tional paral­y­sis. In­sti­tu­tional paral­y­sis is for a small state as ours very, very dan­ger­ous.”

Ob­vi­ously, he is quite happy with things as they are, with a par­lia­men­tary sys­tem that per­mits him to be monarch of all he sur­veys and im­bues him with the power to chain and un­chain gov­ern­ment MPs at his con­ve­nience—re­gard­less of the ex­pressed con­trary wishes of the elec­torate. Be­sides, he was not con­vinced the com­mis­sion had “prop­erly in­ter­preted the will of the peo­ple.”

He com­pared his own sit­u­a­tion with that of the Pres­i­dent of the United States. Some­times, he said, “Obama has to wait weeks and months for an ap­point­ment with his Cab­i­net.” Cryp­ti­cally, he added: “Yes, it is an op­por­tu­nity to re­view the cre­den­tials of a po­ten­tial can­di­date but it is also an op­por­tu­nity for po­lit­i­cal pun­ish­ment. For po­lit­i­cal mis­chief, as I heard some­one say.”

The “some­one” the prime min­is­ter re­ferred to was his deputy, Philip J. Pierre. Not only was the Castries East MP al­to­gether averse to any prun­ing of the prime min­is­ter’s near lim­it­less power, but he also was out­raged by what he per­ceived to be a con­spir­acy to “make the younger gen­er­a­tion be­lieve politi­cians are in a dis­hon­or­able pro­fes­sion.” He had seen the sug­ges­tion “all over this doc­u­ment that politi­cians are cor­rupt, can’t make right de­ci­sions, are silly and stupid.”

Pierre had also rec­om­mended at last week’s House meet­ing that taxpayers should pay for elec­tion cam­paigns. He ridiculed the no­tion of vot­ers be­ing given the power of re­call and clearly sug­gested the com­mis­sion com­prised a group of elit­ists hell-bent on con­trol­ling the af­fairs of state with­out ex­pos­ing them­selves to haz­ards of the cam­paign trail.

Pierre’s views on the power of re­call were sup­ported by other MPs, one of whom warned she would not be “the in­stru­ment of my own demise.”

As noted in last week­end’s STAR, the prime min­is­ter closed the dis­cus­sions with his dec­la­ra­tion that some of the com­mis­sion’s pro­pos­als were “otiose.” Also that its re­port hinted at “an ob­ses­sion with the power of the prime min­is­ter.” It re­mains to be seen whether the na­tion heard the last of the Suzie d’Au­vergne re­port, de­spite that the prime min­is­ter has de­cided it must un­dergo fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion by a spe­cial com­mit­tee yet to be set up!

Some eleven years af­ter the Suzie d’Au­vergne com­mis­sion was man­dated to place the Saint Lu­cia Con­sti­tu­tion un­der the mi­cro­scope,

Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony last week said he was not con­vinced the com­mis­sion’s re­port rep­re­sented the will of the peo­ple!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.