PM, Pierre Make His­tory!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

Just when it seemed the ma­jor­ity of Saint Lu­cians had given up on our politi­cians, ir­re­vo­ca­bly con­vinced by in­dis­putable ev­i­dence that in our coun­try it will al­ways be party first— never coun­try—our two lead­ing politi­cians have given us good rea­son to keep hope alive. On Mon­day evening Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet and House op­po­si­tion leader Philip J. Pierre sat shoul­der to shoul­der on the same side of a ta­ble, their de­meanor for once in­dica­tive of minds united in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

I have cov­ered since the mid-70s more ses­sions of par­lia­ment than I care to re­call—if only to spare my­self the re­open­ing of re­lated psy­chic wounds—but not once had I wit­nessed such gen­tle­manly give and take be­tween a leader of gov­ern­ment and his op­po­si­tion coun­ter­part. Also at the ta­ble were well-known lawyer and ra­dio per­son­al­ity Andy Ge­orge, and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Kim St. Rose.

For sev­eral weeks fol­low­ing the June 6 gen­eral elec­tions the last men­tioned had fea­tured reg­u­larly in the news bul­letins of ev­ery TV and ra­dio sta­tion, to say noth­ing of the col­umns of the print me­dia. By all ac­counts, she seemed to rep­re­sent at the time a huge fly in the new prime min­is­ter’s oint­ment . . . but we need not go into that sorry mess yet again; ev­i­dently the prob­lem has been re­solved. On Mon­day evening Kim St. Rose served as mod­er­a­tor dur­ing what had been ad­ver­tised as a de­bate but turned out to be more of a fire­side chat, al­beit with­out fire. House Speaker Rosie Hus­bands-Mathurin never had it so good!

Of spe­cial in­ter­est to me was the evening’s topic: con­sti­tu­tional re­form—a more con­tentious sub­ject for Saint Lu­cians I know not, save per­haps IMPACS or Gryn­berg. Doubt­less many will re­call the fate of the so-called Suzie d’Au­vergne Com­mis­sion that had been put to­gether for the pre­cise pur­pose of dis­cov­er­ing how Saint Lu­cians felt about our con­sti­tu­tion. Among other things, its re­port un­der­scored that when it came to de­ci­sion­mak­ing the pop­u­lar con­sen­sus was that lo­cal prime min­is­ters had far too much power and the peo­ple far too lit­tle in­flu­ence.

There was also an ap­peal for the right of re­call, so that the peo­ple need not con­tinue to suf­fer longer than nec­es­sary the con­se­quences of be­low-par par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It didn’t take long be­fore the pre­dictable oc­curred, prov­ing yet again lead­ers of gov­ern­ments in these parts truly are mon­archs of all they sur­vey from their lofty perches. Hardly bat­ting an eye, the day’s prime min­is­ter had pro­nounced the re­port not re­flec­tive of the peo­ple’s think­ing. (It had taken re­tired judge Suzie d’Au­vergne and her fel­low com­mis­sion­ers close to four years to put to­gether; she passed away be­fore the re­port fi­nally landed be­fore a dis­mis­sive par­lia­ment!) He re­ferred with al­most pal­pa­ble con­tempt to “this ob­ses­sion with the power of the prime min­is­ter,” and dis­missed out­right the pop­u­lar de­mand for the right of re­call. It should also be said that the prime min­is­ter’s at­ti­tude to the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments had at­tracted scant op­po­si­tion. In­deed, on more than one oc­ca­sion the other side shared the prime min­is­ter’s ob­vi­ously self-serv­ing views, es­pe­cially on the mat­ter of re­call. Fi­nally the prime min­is­ter set aside the re­port with the hol­low-sound­ing prom­ise to re­visit it at an un­spec­i­fied fu­ture date.

Oh, but what a change on Mon­day. The new prime min­is­ter de­clared a good thing “what­ever helps heighten the peo­ple’s aware­ness of our Con­sti­tu­tion and the pol­i­tics in­volved.” He noted that since “we have not had any sub­stan­tial con­sti­tu­tional changes [since 1979] it may be a good thing for me to have a wish list. But at the end of the day it is go­ing to take con­sen­sus. I think we are go­ing to have to try to pick some­thing on which we can find some con­sen­sus and start mov­ing with it.”

He hoped the di­a­logue started on the bound­aries com­mis­sion, and the rec­om­men­da­tions re­quested by the for­mer prime min­is­ter of the Com­mon­wealth Sec­re­tar­iat, would end in con­sen­sus.

The op­po­si­tion leader gen­tly re­minded him that the mat­ter was still be­fore the courts; still un­re­solved. (I couldn’t help won­der­ing what would pre­vent both sides of the House from agree­ing—in the spirit of coun­try be­fore party!— to with­draw the mat­ter. Rape charges are with­drawn all the time, even in mid-trial!) As for the term lim­its pro­posal in the d’Au­vergne re­port, the prime min­is­ter said he was not averse to the idea “on a per­sonal level.” On the other hand, he had “spo­ken to many reg­u­lar peo­ple, not politi­cians, who were of the view that term lim­its could pos­si­bly im­pede democ­racy.” The uniden­ti­fied cit­i­zens wanted to be free to elect their rep­re­sen­ta­tives as many times as they chose, said the prime min­is­ter.

Re­peat­ing him­self, he said: “I’m all for term lim­its. Three terms are more than enough, bear­ing in mind the stresses of the job these days. It’s a lot to ask any­one to serve for more than three terms as prime min­is­ter.”

The op­po­si­tion leader had some­thing to say on that: “The only rea­son we want term lim­its is be­cause of the in­or­di­nate power of the prime min­is­ter. Peo­ple will say, ‘Look at him, he’s been in of­fice over 20 years.’ And they will ask: ‘Does the coun­try be­long to him, does it be­long to her?’ If there are ad­e­quate checks and bal­ances . . . Con­sider the prime min­is­ter. He usu­ally is also fi­nance min­is­ter and leader of his party. He is the only per­son in the coun­try who can fire with­out no­tice and with­out hav­ing to pay com­pen­sa­tion. That’s the re­al­ity. I know we can have dis­cus­sions like this and make things seem nicer than the re­al­ity. But you have to be prac­ti­cal.”

He shared the view that the peo­ple should have the right to keep a prime min­is­ter in of­fice for 30 years, “but there must be checks and bal­ances.” He also be­lieved more peo­ple could be at­tracted into pol­i­tics “but the trou­ble is, when you lose you starve. An op­po­si­tion per­son can­not ex­pect ever to get a gov­ern­ment con­tract, even if he is an en­gi­neer or the best econ­o­mist.”

As for the re­call ques­tion: “The fi­nance min­is­ter will tell you all about fis­cal re­al­i­ties, these things you want for your con­stituency cost money. He has to choose be­tween sav­ing an MP from be­ing re­called for poor rep­re­sen­ta­tion and do­ing some­thing for a more de­serv­ing con­stituency.” At least what he said on Mon­day was dif­fer­ent from his ut­ter­ances on the same sub­ject in 2016. And in tones more au­di­ence-friendly!

Fi­nally it wasn’t so much the re­fresh­ing fact that on Mon­day there was no name­call­ing, no in­sults tossed, no demon­strated lack of re­spect for one an­other that gave me hope for the fu­ture. In truth, there was less agree­ment on Mon­day evening than there had been at the re­called 2016 tabling of the d’Au­vergne re­port in par­lia­ment. But the at­ti­tude, as ear­lier noted, re­minded that it is in­deed pos­si­ble to de­bate in the name of the peo­ple with­out con­jur­ing im­ages of hun­gry wolf packs fight­ing for pos­ses­sion of a rab­bit’s foot. It need also be said that, other than prov­ing it is not be­yond our rep­re­sen­ta­tives to be civil to­ward one an­other, Mon­day evening’s dis­course made lit­tle sense. Af­ter all, the pro­pos­als dis­cussed on the oc­ca­sion might’ve more use­fully been de­bated in the House—and greater re­spect shown the peo­ple’s wishes. I trust NTN will soon re­broad­cast Mon­day evening’s “Dis­course on the Con­sti­tu­tion”—if only for the sake of that sec­tion of our un­der-20 pop­u­la­tion not yet al­to­gether lost!

Never be­fore were cit­i­zens treated to as au­di­ence-friendly a back-and-forth in­volv­ing mem­bers of Saint Lu­cia’s par­lia­ment. Left to right: Andy Ge­orge, Op­po­si­tion Leader Philip J. Pierre, Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Kim St. Rose.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.