Dedicated to Mr Eldon Mathurin, a constitutional reform mentor. May he Rest In Peace.
Our political system is broken, it is clear, but this is not a new revelation.
“The consensus is that the so-called “Westminster inheritance” in the Saint Lucian context has at worst, not worked, or at best, been a double-edged sword.” Report of the Saint Lucia Constitutional Reform Commission, March 2011 pg.23
The current system is one in which there is a strong central government. The party that wins the general election controls the executive, the House of Assembly and the Senate. This party has the power to do almost anything it wants with minimal checks. Public opinion has been the only real check. However, propaganda, party loyalty, and nepotism undermine the ability of the public to have a clear voice on many issues. The real danger in the current political system is the progressive creep towards a totalitarian state, in which a political elite or successive political elites govern during their term in office, with complete power and control over the people.
A totalitarian state is defined as a “system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.” www.lexico.com by Oxford.
We are currently seeing that progression towards totalitarianism in Saint Lucia.
I served as an independent Senator in the 2011-2016 term. The then president of the Senate, Claudius Francis, told me that I had the record of an independent senator who has voted the most against the government. That may be so, but the Senate in which I served was never able to stop or significantly influence even one motion, resolution, or bill being passed by the government. Witness the Constituency Council Act, The Anti-Gang Act, the Citizenship by Investment Act, the Constitution Reform Proposals to name a few.
In the Senate, we would propose ideas during the debate of every Appropriations Bill, with virtually no uptake of these ideas. The only success I think I can claim is the reduction of the subsidy on sugar and removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on pharmaceuticals, both of which required considerable advocacy outside of the Senate.
Suffice it to say, we do not live in a democracy.
The report of the Saint Lucia Constitutional Reform Commission articulated this well in the statement on pg. 24.
“It became increasingly clear that Saint Lucians regarded our Constitution as placing them in the role of window-shoppers, passively standing outside the store-front of government, looking in, hands pressed against the glass, but unable to influence decision-makers once an election was won. They collectively regretted their inability, except by the most indirect or diffuse means, to influence decision-making in “real time.” They 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.”
I have felt, and still feel, that we need reform of our constitution to make Saint Lucia a democracy and have advocated for such, but I realize that this will not happen. Witness the vote against embracing constitutional reform in the House: 17-0. One of the few times the House was united. Since then I have been thinking about other ways of getting to a Saint Lucia that is democratically governed. One in which the principles of good governance are assured. (Consensus, Participation, Rule of Law, Effective and Efficient, Equitable and Inclusive, Responsive, Transparent, Accountable). One in which the average person has a voice and influence in all matters of the State.
We need a new system. Is it possible? Tell me what you think about the system I will now propose which is in keeping with our current constitution. All this new system requires is that the government accepts this as the policy of governance and the new political process. I propose the following as the outline of the key power structures in our current system. The new policy proposed shows how these governing structures will be constituted and will operate while remaining faithful to the existing constitution and therefore can be immediately achieved.
The House of Assembly
The constituency (district) representatives are elected by a simple majority of votes in their respective constituencies. As per the constitution, there is no need for party membership, no need for party symbols or colors, to be a candidate in the election. Every constituency representative (regardless of party affiliation or not) should be the head of the local government and oversee the local government budget and programs. The details of local government; local government structures and processes is beyond the scope of this paper but will need to be detailed.
The parliament should become a full-time parliament with all parliamentary committees operating. These parliamentary committees are comprised of elected members they include the current committees such as the public accounts committee, but I also propose new oversight select committees for each ministry. These oversight select committees would be responsible for vetting the prime minister’s nominees for ministers and would oversee the functioning of the minister.
The ministers will be Senators and not elected members; apart from the minister of finance as per the constitution. I propose that the minister of finance should be the prime minister, however, the prime minister should appoint a Senator competent in finance and economics to be the parliamentary secretary in the ministry of finance who functions as the effective minister. Parliament should work in a continuous manner rather than the ad hoc manner, that currently obtains. Every constituency representative should be paid a full salary set at ten percent more than a minister’s salary.
The prime minister is elected by the House of Assembly and appointed by the Governor-General as per the constitution. The leader of the opposition is elected by the House and appointed by the Governor-General as per the constitution. Every debate requires proposition and opposition hence the necessity to have members of the house with these roles. Other members of the house contribute to the debate and vote as per their conscience. We need to move away from fixed positions based on party affiliation and move to positions based on merit and conscience.
We have learnt, especially during COVID-19, that large virtual meetings are easy to do. Therefore, every week, every representative should have meetings with the constituency using traditional and electronic methods to allow dialogue with a wide cross-section of constituents. The right to recall the representative should be in place. The bar can be set by establishing a process that a petition signed by 51 percent of registered voters in any constituency will trigger a by-election.
The House of Assembly should have fortnightly prime minister question time with questions from members of the House (the elected representatives) and questions submitted by the general public. These formal questions are selected by the parliamentary process. There should be quarterly open House of Assembly forums in which the public can bring motions or private bills to the House for debate.
The Executive (Cabinet)
The Cabinet is chaired by the prime minister. The prime minister nominates ministers from the pool of Senators. These nominees are vetted by the respective parliamentary oversight committee and the minister is then appointed and accounts to the parliamentary oversight committee every quarter. Ministers should be technically competent in the area of their appointment and can be replaced if there is unsatisfactory performance.
As outlined in the constitution, Senators are appointed by the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the Governor-General. They should be selected based on their competence to be ministers in the various ministries. The Senate then becomes a more relevant chamber as it becomes the “chamber of ministers and shadow ministers”. Not every Senator will be a minister as there must be a leader of government business who is the proposition and there must be a leader of the opposition who opposes, therefore allowing for debate. All Senators, as for the House of Assembly members, should be allowed to debate and vote as per their conscience. There should be quarterly open Senate forums in which the public can bring motions, private bills, policy documents, or questions to the Senate for debate. Senators are remunerated by minister salary for the ministers and hourly rate as per the minister’s salary for the senators who are not ministers.
I believe that the above skeletal outline of a new political process, and the balance of power, is in keeping with the existing constitution and better allows the will of the people to manifest in an ongoing manner. It allows for more accountability and a greater level of democracy. I propose this for any of the parties contesting the next general election to adopt.
I am not naïve enough to believe that either of the main parties will do this readily. They are, currently, both too steeped in the old, oppressive colonial political process. Therefore, I propose that we form a new political movement to ensure that this new political process is implemented. This new political movement embraces all parties and independents. The objectives it seeks to achieve are:
- Adherence to the principles of good governance. (Consensus, Participation, Rule of Law, Effective and Efficient, Equitable and Inclusive, Responsive, Transparent, Accountable).
- Government of greater unity focused on finding and implementing the best solutions and driving sustainable development.
- Government with greater accountability between, the executive and legislature, the constituency and the elected representative, the people, and the parliament.
- Government with a more technically competent executive.
- Diffusion of power rather than power concentration in rotating single political parties.
If you are interested and want to be part of Our Saint Lucia Movement — I urge you to log on to the website www.oursaintlucia.com — register, and contribute to the development of our Saint Lucia.
I endorse the upcoming “State of Urgency” discussions, which are a series of interactive online conversations commencing Sunday, June 14, 2020, at 6 pm.
These conversations will continue every Sunday from 6-8 pm. These discussions will be recorded and recommendations documented as we seek to develop a genuine national development blueprint with contribution from as many people as possible, here, and in the diaspora.
I look forward to the discussion and the expression of the will of the people, as written by Marcus Garvey:
“Government is not infallible. Government is only an executive control, a centralized authority for the purpose of expressing the will of the people. Before you have a government you must have the people. Without the people there can be no government. The government must be, therefore an expression of the will of the people”.
In closing, let me reiterate, enough is enough. I categorically reject totalitarian regimes. I cannot abide by “internal neocolonialism” by a political elite or successive politically elite groups. Our ancestors shed too much blood, sweat, and tears in their resistance to subservience; resisting chattel slavery, resisting colonialism.
I, therefore, will not be a traitor to their hopes and dreams; the vision of the ancestors will manifest.
In more recent history the political heroes, Sir George Charles and Sir John Compton were both passionate champions for the people and advocated for Saint Lucia to resist colonial rule and oppression.
Sir John Compton was a fierce advocate for independence and the need for us to collectively determine our destiny, his approach to decision making and development as he said in private conversation “God first, country second, political party after” still resonates in my mind.
For our Saint Lucia. I rise.