Some six months ago I was especially critical of the prime minister for what I described as his highhanded dismissal of the proposals of the Constitutional Reform Commission, chaired by Justice Suzie d’Auvergne. Its preparation had involved time-consuming expensive meetings with citizens at home and abroad. Then there were the several televised discussions that had attracted much public comment.
The following is taken from the document submitted to parliament: “Although this report faithfully reflects the specific recommendations we have reached as a body about our Constitution and our system of government over the last five years, it would be wrong to assume it contains the full sum of knowledge or of understanding that we have acquired over that period. The process of reforming our Constitution forced us to learn a great deal about how average Saint Lucians view our Constitution and our system of government.”
Additionally: “There appears to be a reasonable consensus among our people that what was perhaps appropriate for Britain with its large parliament and relatively small executive, guarded by hundreds of backbenchers, was somewhat inadequate in a country of only seventeen constituencies and in which the near total domination of a small executive over the parliament was virtually guaranteed. Put another way, we recognized a general agreement that the overwhelming concentration of power in the hands of a small Cabinet was an unacceptable situation that cried out for change.
“The commission observed a real hunger for constitutional change. It discerned restlessness with the status quo, which manifests itself in a pervasive, near universal discontent with politicians and politics alike. At the heart of this cynicism, we detected a widespread belief that our Constitution condemns us to a situation in which our governments, once elected, seem beyond our ability to restrain or to influence. [Saint Lucians] lamented the fact that they could not hold a government accountable except through the remote mechanism of an election, by which time the damage resulting from poor decision-making, malfeasance, incompetence or outright contempt for the electorate might be irreparable or irreversible.
“Above all, they bemoaned the lack of appropriate checks and balances on Cabinet authority, the lack of a real separation between Cabinet and parliament, and the lack of real and measurable accountability expected from a mature system of government.” The deputy prime minister Philip J. Pierre’s response was predictable gibberish that started with his “congratulations to the commission on a well-researched job,” then proceeded to expose his true sentiments. Conceivably addressing the commission’s deceased chairperson, he said: “The question is: Has the Constitution served us well? Has it done what it was supposed to do? Has it created crisis? Has it created any disruption in our country? And if I may look back, I would say that in Saint Lucia we always shoot ourselves in the feet.”
As if he had not already made clear, notwithstanding the non sequiturs, his personal assessment of the submitted proposals, the deputy prime minister declared those who had put them together “people who want to abort the [election] process” in favor of “people who have absolutely no link with the constituents; people who do not know what it means to be rebuffed; who do not understand the needs of a poor mother . . . You want to take away their right [to vote] and put it in the hands of some people who you believe have superior brains . . . I cannot support that initiative.”
As for the prime minister, he dismissed some of the commission’s proposals as “otiose.” He said: “I am not suggesting the commission has properly interpreted the will of the people.” Besides, he wanted to “emphasize to my colleagues that they must remember a report of a constitutional commission is a product of the times. Often it captures the passions of the moment, the preoccupations of people, and I would hasten to add, for those of us who feel there has been an obsessive preoccupation with the powers of the prime minister, that we can better understand it if we put it in the context of the times.”
Reminiscent of a schoolteacher revisiting his past for the benefit of leaders of the future, he went on: “I must tell you, coming out of the academic environment, away from the lecture theaters into the logic and practice and constitutional law, some of my views have changed. There are things I supported in the lecture theaters of the University of the West Indies that I no longer support. Why? Because I have been exposed to its practice and it is only when you bring the provisions of the Constitution to life that you see its strengths and its weaknesses.”
So much for the wishes of the people; so much for their expressed concerns about the irrelevance of our Constitution. So much for democracy. The prime minister postponed indefinitely further discussion of constitutional reform. I have taken the time to reproduce the above paragraphs relating to the Suzie d’Auvergne report to underscore how valid were the contributions to the commission, especially concerning “the obsession and preoccupation with the powers of the prime minister.” What had taken the commission five years to put together, the prime minister had in relative minutes put asunder.
There is another reason for producing this article at this time. And it is to say how correct was the prime minister when he implied the d’Auvergne commission had “not properly interpreted the will of the people.” Otherwise the people, by whatever means open to them, would by now have proved the prime minister’s assessment of their intelligence absolutely incorrect and insulting.
As for my own carefully considered conclusion that the prime minister had treated with palpable contempt both the d’Auvergne commissioners and the patriotic contributors to their assignment, well, I now appreciate better than ever that one man’s meat is indeed another man’s poison; that some actually enjoy slavery—if only by another name. I know now, too, that when it comes to palatability I should speak only for myself. But then I’ve never done anything exclusive of its impact on others.
I suspect it’s too late to change!