I want to first of all congratulate the members of the [Suzie d’Auvergne] commission for a well-researched job and it is clear that there was great effort and research in the presentation of this document. I want to start by looking back into history a bit and asking honorable Members a few questions. I agree that the Constitution was a document of 1989 that needs revisiting; that needs changing; that needs review.
But the question is: has the Constitution served us well? Has it done what it was supposed to do? Has it created any crisis? Has it created any disruption in the country? And if I may look back, I would say that in Saint Lucia, particularly, we like to always shoot ourselves in the feet.
If you listen to some of the comments and the commentaries, you would believe that this country is the worst country in the entire world; that the people who run this country, apart from being incompetent, are corrupt, useless. They couldn’t find a job anywhere else in the world, that they have to be a politician only in Saint Lucia to live.
And that really is not true. And I see in some of the suggestions of the document in front of me a belief that politicians are the cause of all evil and the cause of all the problems that exist in this country. Mr. Speaker, let us look at the history of Saint Lucia: from 1979 Saint Lucia has not gone through what I can say is any major constitutional crisis that has caused total disruption in the country.
In the 79, 82 situation the Constitution handled the problem and the country came back to normalcy rather quickly. In any case of Saint Lucia the Constitution has served as well. This country has had elections, albeit sometimes it was all right in the morning. There have been elections that have been, in the main, free and fair in that the people have gone to the polling station and voted for the government of their choice.
The fact is, what one has to understand is that the people are the ones who must tell us how to run the country and not any group of men or women who believe they have the better brains. Or who do not want to take the hassle and the pressure of running for political office but want to constitutionalize their position in being able to tell people what to do. They believe, probably because of their education, their background or their class or their financial situation, that they have a right to dictate what’s happening in this country. And I see that clearly in some of the provisions of that report. I see it clearly.
This report recommends that elected parliamentarians should not be ministers and in what is called a hybrid situation where you have a running mate and a candidate and the candidate gives up, and the running mate takes over. Yes, when the candidate becomes a minister he has to give up and the running mate takes over because for some reason the elected person cannot be, should not be, a minister. Why? I can’t answer why, Mr Speaker. [Editor’s Note: The East Castries MP clearly misunderstood what he had read in the Report concerning the power of recall, practiced in UK and American politics!]
The people of the country, the ordinary people, understands [sic] what is needed for himself, for his children and for his constituency and when he exercises that right and he goes to vote; what he is voting for is for someone who meets his hopes and his aspirations; someone he believes can improve the quality of life for himself and for his children. And even though you may not agree with that choice, fact is the person who is elected is the person that the majority of people believe can help them to improve their quality of life; and when you want to abort that process by choosing people that you believe, people who have absolutely no link with the people of the constituency; people who have never understood what it means to be rebuffed; people who do not understand what it means having hundreds of people in need; people who do not understand needs of constituents; people who do not understand the needs of a poor mother in the boulevard and how the policies that you, the government, will implement will help send their children, to school, you want to take that right away from them and put it in the hands of some people who you believe have superior brains Mr. Speaker? I cannot support that initiative.
What I can support in the report is that the role of parliament is strengthened, in that parliamentarians are allowed to do things in a way that their people see fit. So I believe that there ought to be a vote, an allocation of resources to each parliamentarian, whether he is in government or not positioned. And he can use that allocation for his constituency in a way that is fully accountable and transparent. That means that each parliamentarian would be able, within the constitutional constraints and economic constraints, be able to do things for his constituents so that he may not have to depend too much on central government.
I believe that parliamentarians should be allowed to implement policies and projects in their constituency and that ought to be a constitutional arrangement; it ought to be in the Constitution. I do not believe that parliamentarians should be so tied in that anything they want, they have to get it from a minister or from ministerial office.
I also believe that parliamentarians should be empowered in that their salaries and their benefits should be designed in such a way that they can live without being ministers. I think the mischief in that, that is trying to cure, is that every parliamentarian wants to be a minister; I think that is the mischief that they are trying to cure. I think if each parliamentarian is allowed a sufficient level of latitude, where he can do things for his constituency, items of his own person, he’s paid adequately, then the need to be a minister would not be as strong as it is now. I also believe that the trend or the belief that politicians can get involved in corrupt practices is something that we must try to dispel.
Mr. Speaker there have been major scandals. The financial scandals in the world were not caused by politicians. The collapse of all the major banks were [sic] not caused by politicians. The BCCI problems were not caused by politicians. Even the last FIFA crisis . . . in fact in FIFA it was a policy to keep politicians away from FIFA. That was a policy. These sports organizations always believe that politicians should not be involved and look at the crisis in FIFA.
So to think, or to tell young people that all the crises in the world are caused by politicians and they should be controlled, they should not be allowed to become ministers, it’s not because they create problems, I think it’s false, I think it’s a false premise. I think some of the provisions of these recommendations make that possible.
I believe that the Constitution should give parliament a more significant role in government. I think the Constitution should dictate how many times parliaments meet. I think parliament should meet frequently so that the people’s business can be discussed.The idea that parliaments only meet sometimes once every three months, in fact the existing law says that parliament only got to meet to discuss the budget and after that it doesn’t have to meet. I think the Constitution should determine how many times parliament meets.
I think also the Constitution should cause automatic changes in the electoral boundaries based on population, in that there ought not to be any anger or disturbance or so-called gerrymandering to take advantage when the boundaries are to be changed. In the existing arrangement, it says between three and seven years. I think it should declare that any time the population of any area exceeds a certain number of people, the boundaries should automatically change. So it would remove all the so-called advantage that people think government in power has when these boundaries are changed.
I see no reason why ministers of religion should not be involved in politics. Ministers of religion, some of them, are the greatest. Not the greatest, the most influential people in the island. They speak to people in churches, they try to control their lives, they tell how to live their lives; they tell them what to do and not do. Why can’t they come out and do what they practise? Why do you want to influence without facing the music yourself?
I’ll make a statement today which I’m sure I will get attacked for: the idea that parliamentarians and politicians should not be paid a salary because they happen to be politicians and that is why in that system, in these recommendations, all the controls are for parliamentarians. There are no stated controls or strictures for the people who will be in the so-called Cabinet. No controls over them. All the measures of control are for elected parliamentarians. The provisions make the job of the prime minister almost, I mean, I don’t want to hold up my colleague here . . . It strips the prime minister of all the power the prime minister can have.
To me, it doesn’t make any sense. Our system dictates that the prime minister must have some measure of control for the people who are in the government services. I’m sure a businessman, a CEO in a business would like to have some measure of control over his employees. Because in the final analysis, the prime minister is the most equal among equals. The prime minister, like all of us here, has to report to people at the end of five years. And that is the reporting mechanism that this document fails to understand!
(The preceding is an excerpt from MP Philip J. Pierre’s contribution to Tuesday’s Special House Sitting)