Never mind the posthumous praise heaped on the departed Justice Suzie d’Auvergne and the ostentatious congratulations offered her surviving team, it seems the report they submitted fell far short of the official expectation—at any rate, judging by the televised House review of the submitted proposals for constitutional reform. By official account, on 17 February 2004, parliament “unanimously” authorized the establishment of a Constitutional Reform Commission “to examine and to report in writing the commission’s opinions and recommendations for possible reform of this country’s constitution. (My emphasis)
The commission was required through broad-based consultations with Saint Lucians everywhere “to review and reform the constitution in order to encourage effective governance, to ensure that the institutions of state remain strong and responsive and that the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all persons be respected.”
The undertaking also sought to “promote a meaningful expansion and widening of democratic participation by citizens in the processes of government; address possible weaknesses in the constitutional framework which political practice had highlighted over the years; refashion the constitution so that it better accorded with our changing social and political circumstances; and promote better governance and greater equity in the constitutional framework generally.”
Typically, “although the resolution was published in the Gazette of 16 July 2004 . . . it was not until 18 November 2005 that the commission was able formally to launch and present its mission to the Saint Lucian public.” Why the delay? Undeclared “various administrative matters” first had to be settled. Then there were the workshops designed to educate the commission on matters constitutional, not to say untold “consultations” with groups of Saint Lucians.
In other words, there is little difference between what went on at the time of the costly so-called OECS Initiative that went nowhere and the subject now being discussed that offers further proof of how self-convinced are our elected politicians of our plantation-slave status. A bold statement, yes. But hardly hyperbolic.
At the risk of being declared a glutton for punishment, I invite you to revisit with me last Tuesday’s special House Session, perchance to examine some nuggets from the contribution of the temporarily “unchained” deputy prime minister and Castries East MP, Philip J. Pierre: “Mr. Speaker, I believe that the trend or the belief that politicians can get involved in corrupt practices is something we must try to dispel. There have been major scandals. The financial scandals in the world were not caused by politicians. In fact FIFA had a policy that politicians should not be involved. But look at the crisis at FIFA. To tell young people that all the crises in the world are caused by politicians, and that they should be controlled, not allowed to become government ministers, I think that’s a false premise.” Remember, dear reader: what was on the table were proposals for possible constitutional reform. And anyway, was Jack Warner, when he was preparing himself for self-emolation, not a FIFA-connected politician?
More Pierre nuggets: “Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement today which I’m sure I’ll be attacked for. It concerns the idea that politicians should not be paid a salary. In these recommendations all the controls are only for parliamentarians. There are no controls for the people who would be in the [proposed] so-called Cabinet . . . These provisions make the job of prime minister almost . . . I mean they strip the prime minister of all the power the prime minister can have. What it means is that the people from outside, who are not elected, have the right, the privilege, to make rules and dictate to elected people what to do. And the prime minister must be at the whims and fancies of these people. Our system dictates that the prime minister must have some measure
of control over the people in government services. I’m sure a businessman would like to have some measure of control over his employees.”
The businessman-employees theme had for years plagued Philip J. Pierre. It still has not registered in the MP’s brain that he, the prime minister and others “in government services” are servants in the employ of, and therefore always accountable to, the people.
As for the Caribbean Court of Justice: “I know there are many people who oppose the CCJ for emotional reasons, for belief that we cannot do for ourselves, because we have no self-confidence. The CCJ should be part of our constitutional arrangements. There are enough judges, legal scholars, who can opine on a case based on the principles of law and justice.”
The greater truth is that the unmerited lack of faith in the CCJ has less to do with the talent of judges than with the seemingly unshakable popular belief that politicians, most of whom are without conscience, will have more opportunity to influence CCJ decisions than is possible with the Privy Council. But Pierre, who insists despite the overwhelming evidence, that politicians don’t deserve their nasty reputation, did not go there!
He also expressed the view that political campaigns should be undertaken at public expense and that “some form of party financing should come from the Consolidated Fund.” Pierre believes, too, the Integrity Commission should be strengthened, “because what we must not make the young generation believe is that politicians and parliamentarians are in a dishonorable profession . . . Mr. Speaker, the idea that you must bring the politician down is clear in this document; you must make politicians second class citizens because they are crooks; they are corrupt; they can’t make right decisions; they are silly, they are stupid. I see it written all over.” If only the MP would understand that referring to yourself as “the honorable” in no way guarantees you are indeed honorable!
Pierre referred to page 233 of the document under discussion: “The idea of guarantees again speaks to the whole Rochamel situation, Mr. Speaker. It comes back to the same situation that somehow election decision makers cannot make the right decisions.”
Actually, this is what page 233 says, with reference to Section 41 of the Finance Administration Act: “The commission reviewed the findings and recommendations of the Ramsahoye Report as to the adequacy of Sections 38, 39 and 41 and also considered the numerous submissions to the commission on this matter. After due consideration, the commission concluded that the recommendations of the Ramsahoye Commission of Inquiry with regards to the act and financial accountability in general, should be adopted and implemented. In particular, the commission concluded that every guarantee given by the government of Saint Lucia, if not given under an enactment, be put before parliament for prior approval by resolution with full details of the amount guaranteed and the object and the reasons for giving the guarantee.”
Pierre quickly dismissed the above-stated recommendation as further proof the commission believed “elected decision makers cannot make the right decisions.”
Another bee in Pierre’s bonnet—the recommended power of recall. “These things sound very nice for people who are talking,” he said, “but the reality of the situation is not what is ever thought of. How do you recall a parliamentarian? What is the basis? You say he hasn’t performed in his constituency. If you have a system where the parliamentarian is given a certain level of resources to manage himself, then you have the power of recall. But if the parliamentarian hasn’t got the resources, how can you recall him?” Yes, indeed, last Tuesday was a day for mind-boggling non sequiturs.
He came to the big questions: “Has the constitution served us well? Has it done what it was supposed to do? Has it created any crises? If I look back I would say we like to shoot ourselves in the feet. The fact is that the people are the ones to tell us how to run the country and not any group of men or women who believe they have better brains, or who do not want to take the hassle and the pressure of running for political office but want to constitutionalise their position to tell people what to do. They believe, probably because of their education, their background or their class or financial status that they have the right to dictate what’s happening in this country. And I see that clearly in some of the provisions of the report. I see that clearly.”
Obviously the praise earlier showered on the Suzie d’Auvergne Commission was of the fulsome variety. Suddenly the commission had in the eyes of Philip J. Pierre turned into a group of elitist wannabe dictators!
The prime minister in his turn was living proof that all that glitters is not gold. He impressively traced the history of the Constitution that by Pierre’s measure had served this country well, but the prime minister carefully avoided mentioning how successive prime ministers had treated the Constitution. Had he been more forthcoming, he might’ve mentioned the dictatorial adventures of his deceased predecessor John Compton and the infamous 1979 transmogrification of William Peter Boulevard and the current prime minister’s role—his party’s at any rate—on the excrementitious occasion. He might also have revisited Grynberg and the earlier Rochamel disasters, if only to prove how some who had sworn to protect our constitution had made a habit of defecating on it.
Instead the prime minister spoke like a true politician at election time. He said: “We have proved we, government and opposition, can work together in defining our strategic interests.” And what exactly were those “strategic interests?”
The prime minister went on: “Those who say we cannot work together in the interests of this country, you have a living example before you. Here we are: one political party created a commission to review the Constitution, another political party came into office and they accepted it. They provided further resources, they were represented on the commission, the then government when it was in opposition did not withdraw persons whom it had appointed to the commission, the work was allowed to continue.”
Inevitably, the worm in the apple soon emerged: “Of course, Mr. Speaker, some of the commission’s recommendations are otiose. Classic example: the commission in its wisdom spoke against citizenship by investment but we have decided otherwise. We have proceeded to enact legislation to give effect to it.”
The more things change. One week before the reform proposals came before the House, the voice of the people had been turned off and what they had said about economic citizenship determined not worthy of serious attention. The people had spoken via a commission, our omnipotent leader had heard them and then decided he alone knew what’s best for us. In any event, the prime minister somewhat conveniently believed the commission had “not properly interpreted the will of the people.”
He reminded the House that “a report of a commission is a product of the times; it captures the passions of the moment, the preoccupations of the people, and I might add that those who feel there has been an obsessive preoccupation with the powers of the prime minister. We can better understand it if we put it in the context of the times. We on this side had just emerged from an election that we had lost. The then administration, led by myself, was painted as arrogant, abusive, all those words, more adjectives, and I don’t need to repeat them. Everyone here knows what I’m saying.
“We were replaced by a successor administration, and try as the former prime minister might, that administration also raised questions regarding the powers of the prime minister. I think the people of Saint Lucia, caught up in the moment, caught up in the context of the times, found themselves perhaps preoccupied with the limits of the power of the prime minister.”
Additionally: “While obviously we must ensure that we answer to the rules of our democracy and allow for citizen participation, we must not create a model that leads to any kind of paralysis.”
But then, what better opportunity could a people have for studying the power of their prime minister than when circumstances—often created by power-hungry politicians—place him between a rock and a harder place? And if the people should feel the need to decide in a particular direction, then should the people’s ambitions be thwarted? Why shouldn’t they receive due respect by their elected representives? Well, not if the people’s decision seeks to limit prime ministerial authority over them, obviously!
The prime minister determined finally that the people’s proposals are in need of further analysis. He promised he and his colleagues would set up a special committee for the purpose. Meanwhile, he will retain all his powers, given and taken, including the power to tell the committee, if ever it should materialize, what to do with its own proposals.
I repeat: the more things change . . .