God Almighty first framed a constitution. He made it in the form of Ten Commandments inscribing them with His own finger on two tablets of stone. There is no better template. The same were stamped on the fleshy tablets of our hearts and reside in our conscience, guiding us as to when to say “Yes”, and when to say, “No”, thus distinguishing for us what is right and what is wrong, instinctively. Though the Creator of all things, He allowed the interplay of free will in the choices we make. And to show how abhorrent governing by dictation was to Him, the fullest and emptiest of men were all placed on the same footing, by making very plain his laws to them.
Departure from those Commandments, especially murder, adultery, theft, false witnessing, honouring parents and love of neighbour, has been the ruination of nations and the bane of family and societal life. So in abandoning here our means to a demi-paradise, we at the same time miss the stairway to that land of milk and honey in the hereafter.
When His time came, nearly 2000 years ago, Christ construed, reconstructed and confirmed the Ten Commandments in the following five words in answer to a Doctor of the Law: “Love thy neighbour as thyself” which is ‘like’ love of God. Still the five words are reducible to a single word, ‘love’, which does not delight in ‘evil’ and “keeps no record of wrongs” says the Good Book. Since, therefore, “it perfects all things”, no act done bearing its mark could be harmful to a nation or its citizens, regardless of who is at the command centre of its affairs.
I have prefaced my thoughts on the proposed new constitution in that manner, only to emphasize that a constitution can be written on the back of a postage stamp in those five words, leaving details to be incorporated by reference. This all-encompassing Commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, is in consonance with that self-evident truth enunciated at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776, expressed in five words only: “All men are created equal”. And in the French Declaration of the Rights of 1789 it is reflected in three divine words: Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité (Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood).
In examining our own 1979 constitution it can be said that the spirit of those egalitarian French and American principles is alive in the preamble to ours by its recognition of the equitable concept of distributive justice, as it clothes the substantive provisions, thus:
“The operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being distributed as to sub-serve the common good . . . that there should be adequate livelihood for all.”
That, clearly, is the manifesto every political party is bound to follow; it is in keeping with the oath that every constitutional monarch takes: “to do justice”. In fact, even absolute monarchs swore: “To do right, justice and discretion in mercy and in truth”.
So when we, with a free constitution, act as if we are a law unto ourselves, we make even absolute monarchs look like angels, and expulsion from office becomes an imperative duty.
It is to be noted that that fundamental principle of ‘distributive justice’ in our constitution came after an affirmation of “faith in the supremacy of the Almighty God”, the first principle in the preamble. And there it is also recognized that “appointments should be made on the basis of the recognition of merit, ability and integrity”, not partisanship, thereby establishing a meritocracy. It is there that our constitution shows its genius.
Any group of men, therefore, who vowed to observe those fundamentals in the preamble need no written constitution to guide them as it would have already been injected into their blood streams in the Ten Commandments,‘one jot or tittle’ of which has not been changed to this day, since the time of Moses. But because men have become ‘desperately wicked’ and ‘nasty and brutish’, constitutions have been designed to ensure ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ and not chiefly for supporters and friends.
In my long ago studies on the subject of ‘Constitutions’, from documents which give directions as to how a country should be governed, I committed to memory two basic ideas, each of which must be followed in order to bring about, “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. The first looks like a summation of the Commissioners’ Report headed by our Suzie D’Auvergne, and I am enchanted by it. Georges Bidault, Prime Minister of France in 1948 and 1958, assents: “The good or bad fortune of a nation depends on three factors: its constitution, the way the constitution is made to work, and the respect it inspires”. The Frenchman hit the nail on the head. His admonition is eloquently captured by the Commission of 22 who lamented that there was: “. . . 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”. I felt bound to suggest elsewhere that Chairperson D’Auvergne deserved to “be epitomized in an epitaph to her.”
My next enchanter was Lord Acton. In a 1987 letter to Bishop Crighton he warned: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Here, again, the Commission was bemoaning a tendency that had been “widespread”.
For all the reasons stated here (and outlined in my article of the 31st October last, entitled, “Is it our Constitution or Men who need Remodelling?” I have, despite my age, set myself the monumental task of examining not only the form that a democratic government should take, but the powers that should reside in its various constituents parts, to avoid wasteful expenditure, partisan politics, corruption, victimization, highhandedness and worse. In this regard, the recommendation for standing committees to control all matters of a financial nature is la pièce de resistance, the main course.
In that exercise, much care will be taken to ensure that power is not concentrated in the hands of any one person, but is so diffused that limits cannot be transcended. Thus there will be a strict separation of powers to keep parliamentarians and officials straight-jacketed. No longer will a scarecrow be made of the constitution. It will be protected like a citadel with moats, electrified barbed wire fences and ditches, hedges and battlements, cannon and minefields. Such will be the nature of the checks and balances. No longer will the taxes drawn from the sweat of our brows be left unguarded for decades. And every citizen will delight in the knowledge that his every five dollar is being spent as if it were a twenty dollar bill.