Of What Use A Constitution to The King of the Jungle?

Ask a local lawyer what had inspired his or her choice of profession and more often than not they will refer to their social conscience and an uncontrollable desire to help the deprived and the downtrodden. Why then have so many deserted conceivably lucrative law practices in favor of relatively minimum-wage politics, also widely considered among the most corruptive of occupations?

We might also ask why Shakespeare had placed the following in the mouth of one of the characters in Henry The Sixth: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Why not also the politicians, whether or not simultaneously? Did the Bard carry a secret grudge against lawyers? Or were the lawyers he wanted dead also politicians?

I was taken aback last week by the persistent calls from four or five immediately identifiable individuals for Mary Isaac’s resignation as CSA president, on the premise that her recent acceptance of a senate seat made her position with the public sector union untenable.

“Conflict of interest!” shouted her detractors.

Meanwhile the House had voted in favor of adjusting the existing electoral boundaries so that four new constituencies were in consequence created, an increase from 17 to 21. Based largely on its numerical composition the government successfully argued—again without evidence—that a greater number of parliamentary representatives guaranteed constituents “proper representation.”

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony: If Boundaries Commission laws demanded reform in 1998, then why  not in the brave new world of the age of the Internet?

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony: If Boundaries Commission laws demanded reform in 1998, then why
not in the brave new world of the age of the Internet?

No need to define the quoted phrase. The only attempts at justification centered on the self-serving suggestion (again without evidence!) that “in the context of local politics, the people are not satisfied just with seeing us on TV. They want to meet and feel us”—especially at election time when politicians are uncharacteristically generous.

As absurd as was the numbers argument it was, by all last week’s House debate revealed, the consensus at the most recent Boundaries Commission meeting that comprised four politicians and the House Speaker in the position of chairman.

Ironically, whenever Mary Isaac’s supporters cite her constitutional right to free association, her detractors counter with the preposterous presumption that a UWP senator cannot be faithful to the agenda of the Civil Service Association—membership of which, by all I’ve heard over the airwaves, comprises only supporters of the St. Lucia Labour Party and the United Workers Party. Evidently the 3000-strong union has no room for free thinkers!

No one seemed to care that our Constitution, originally authored by our former (?) colonial masters, then retooled in 1979 with the assistance of individuals who never anticipated the Internet, may now be an impediment to our progress—effectively, an enslaving barb-wired fence.

It would appear that when he first took office in 1997, having abandoned his constitutional-law lecturer’s job at UWI, Kenny Anthony was concerned about aspects of our election machinery.

Barely three months after replacing Vaughan Lewis as prime minister, he had written on the subject to the deputy-secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, requesting technical assistance to Saint Lucia “with a view to ensuring that the populations of constituencies are in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution of Saint Lucia.”

By reliable account “the assistance sought to be done at the earliest to allow for sufficient discussion among all parties in order to further government’s avowed interest in maintaining the integrity and transparency of the electoral process.”

More evidence that Kenny Anthony was not always the Kenny Anthony we know today. Among the Secretariat’s observations: “The Constituency Boundaries Commission is governed by Section 57 of the Constitution. It created a 5-person body with the Speaker as chairman and four members appointed by the governor general. Two members to be appointed on the advice of the prime minister and two on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.

“Since the Speaker is elected by the majority party in the House, the chairman was seen as a government person, giving the government effective control of the Commission.”

Additionally: “This view is confirmed by the minutes of the four meetings the Commission appears to have convened since 1979. In spite of the last chairman’s [deceased Wilfred St. Clair Daniel] own assertion to the author of this report that he found it ‘embarrassing’ to have to take sides in these meetings—where everyone voted on essentially political lines—the minutes show that he provided the majority for the government members whenever a decision was made.”

In regular parlance, Boundaries Commission meetings chaired by the House Speaker always guaranteed victory for the government side. If ever there was a contract between slave owner and slave, Section 57 of our Constitution is it!
But when I called last week to tell a show host the Speaker of the House, when he chairs meetings such as recently convened by the Boundaries Commission, renders himself vulnerable to conflict of interest allegations, the same voices that had complained about Mary Isaac’s “compromising” position retaliated by reminding me that the Boundaries Commission was governed by Section 57 of the Constitution, absolutely legal, therefore beyond criticism.

Even the politician-lawyer (here we go again) Richard Frederick called Newsspin in support of the above view, as if indeed legal were automatically synonymous with fair. If it were so, then the legal enslavement of millions of Africans was fair. As was Apartheid. As were the laws that permitted white-owned restaurants to deny service to “coloreds.”

Obviously, for some, including lawyer-politicians, there is no such thing as an unjust law, never mind that it is defined by Dr. Martin Luther King in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “A just law is a man-made code that squares with moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Dr. King’s definition squares with the philosophy of the Romans during their empire: A just law is a law universally practiced. Although slavery was universally used in their time, the Romans themselves considered it in breach of moral law.

To return to Dr. King: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Let us not forget our so-called Supreme Law was handed down to us by folks we contemptuously refer to as “our former colonial masters.” Why then do we, who are today independent and free of colonial shackles, continue to retain on our statute books what clearly are unjust laws?

Laws that empower the House Speaker and the Senate President to do what is not in the interest of all the people must be reformed. But close to 20 years after the Commonwealth Secretariat advised the law is demonstrably unjust that permits our government to have its way at every meeting of the Boundaries Commission, Section 57, that is, remains unchanged.

At sessions of both our Upper and Lower Houses our government, regardless of party color, remains in legal control of debates via an accommodating Senate President and House Speaker.

Consequently, the people have paid for loan guarantees that we never knew had been given, among them guarantees of loans to a bankrupt airline, Rochamel and Frenwell. We have seen our prime ministers usurp the constitutional authority of the governor general, with impunity. And now officially unconfirmed reports indicate the once secret Jack Grynberg matter is to be determined by the ICSID on March 15.

But back to the beleaguered Mary Isaac who is counting on the protection of the Saint Lucia Constitution even as the politicians and their echo-lytes with their Brutus daggers seek to behead the CSA, whose president was thrice elected, the last time with 800 votes to her nearest rival’s 300.

Meanwhile, the Constitution is cited in support of the demockrazy that Section 57 represents. How long before we revert to the law of the jungle that serves only those with the big battalions on their side? Then again, perhaps the reversal has already occurred while foolish virgins slept!

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