After six years of consultations, Vincentians will vote on a new Constitution in November.
After six years of consultations, Vincentians will vote on a new Constitution in November.

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent:- Socio-political organisation the People’s Movement for Change (PMC) is calling for a postponement of the referendum vote on the proposed new constitution to within a year after the next general elections, due by December 2010.

The group said in a statement that “the years of effort and scarce financial resources expended so far can be saved if the referendum is depoliticized”.

It suggested that Vincentians vote on the proposed new Constitution “at a time when both major parties will have the opportunity to think in the national interest rather than from a partisan vantage point”.

The ruling Unity Labour Party and opposition New Democratic Party have both said that they will in September begin campaigning for “Yes” and “No” votes respectively for the November referendum.

The PMC believes that rescheduling the referendum “would effectively minimise the current partisan approach to the proposed constitution Bill 2009”.

It also said it would allow Vincentians “to consider afresh” the following:

  1. An executive presidency
  2. The monopoly of the political party over the parliamentary and electoral process
  3. National Financing of elections campaign process
  4. Ways to give more independence and muscle to the various new commissions and the ombudsman.

“We remain convinced that to put the referendum to a vote at this time with broad sections of the population in open revolt will result in complete failure and defeat.

“We are further convinced that too many good ideas and institutional changes are embodied in this proposed bill for us to sacrifice it on the altar of political calculations. The people must take ownership of the process: demand time for more discussion, demand more changes and demand passage of a reform constitution the majority of people will be prepared to live by,” the statement said.

The PMC commended the government and people of this country “for their participation and ownership of the constitutional reform process thus far”.

It said that while there has been “robust debate on some issues, others have been glossed over or virtually left unattended”.

The movement called on all “all sections of the Vincentian society to engage in more meaningful, non-partisan and productive debate on matters relevant to constitutional reform”.

It described as “innovations” the proposed creation of important human and civil rights commissions and the replacement the Queen of England as the de facto head of state and the Privy Council with a President and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

The PMC said that the inclusion of mechanisms such as the office of an Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, if provided with an adequate mandate and the requisite powers, will serve to deepen the fundamental rights of Vincentians; while the Integrity, Parliamentary and Teaching Service Commissions serve as important instruments of decentralising power”.

The Movement commended “the move to enhance the social and economic rights of Vincentians to include ‘the right to work’, ‘the right to health’ and ‘the right to the enjoyment of freedom of culture and to cultural expression’ as important principles and values of the proposed new constitution”.

The group noted the prominence given to the family as the ‘natural basic group unit of society’ and said that it envisaged that “the conditions would be created for increased support to the institution of the family.”

It however said that the proposed Constitution was “still far from making, ‘the people the true political sovereign of the State.’

“While Chapter two affirms that ‘the people are the true sovereign of the state’ the preponderance of the political party renders this ideal almost non-existent,” the statement said.

The PMC said that its chairman, Oscar Allen, noted that ‘in our draft Constitution, political parties dominate political life as never before’.

“The political party overthrows and displaces the citizen as a critical part of governance.”

The statement said that the lack of internal democracy in political parties here “makes it even more a danger to have them dominate our political life”.

It noted that the political parties, “not ‘We the People’”, choose the prime minister, opposition leader and the non elected assembly members “and excludes independent citizens from running for elections”.

“Essentially, the Political Party rises to new heights without any clear obligation and responsibility to the people,” the PMC said.

“Interestingly, while the Political Party has been elevated to ‘new heights of governance, the Bill is silent on the important issue of how election campaigns ought to be financed.

“The People’s Movement for Change therefore considers the regulation of election campaign financing an important feature of national governance that can assist in the reduction of corruption and hence bring some civility to governance.”