What Are the Most Important Issues for Constitutional Reform Today? By Don Mitchell CBE QC – Part 5

By anguillian January 24, 2017 09:39



[This is the fifth and final part of a speech delivered at the Continuing Legal Education Seminar of the OECS Bar Council Meeting arranged by the Anguilla Bar Association at La Vue Hotel on 2 December 2016]

Part 5

We are considering what alterations need to be made to our constitutional system if we, the people, are to have confidence in our governmental arrangements. In the last four weeks we looked at the elements of “integrity”, “transparency”, “accountability”, and “public finances” which are essential for good governance. We continue now with a fifth element, the importance of the rule of law.
Rule of Law: It is axiomatic that the rule of law, and the willing submission of the administration to the principles of natural justice, are essential prerequisites for good governance to flourish. The rules of law and of natural justice will not thrive based only on the constitution. We lawyers must be vigilant to ensure that bad legislative provisions that may enable cronyism, nepotism and conflicts of interest are rooted out of all of our government arrangements. When a new Planning Act or Building Act is found to contain provisions for Cabinet to overrule the planning or building board, or to remove a planning or building issue from an appeals tribunal, we must see it for what it is, a provision designed to undermine the rule of law. We must vigorously oppose it.

Where any government procedure is about to be put in place that will permit one citizen who enjoys political patronage to advance, no matter how questionable his enterprise, while another citizen who is out of political favour will have his interests, no matter how admirable, frustrated, there is the essence of bad governance. Then, the Bar Association must be ready, loudly and publicly to challenge such a proposal.
We must not imagine that the constitution by itself can be relied on to protect us from all efforts by the political elite to advance their and their friends’ interests. Constant vigilance and the courage to raise our voices in protest will sometimes be needed. As a start, when there is an opportunity offered to make proposals for constitutional reform, we can take steps to ensure that the constitution, the highest law in the land, does provide our citizens with all the tools needed to block discrimination, victimisation, and oppression if any of them should ever be attempted. This is the imperative that was ignored, to their loss, by those who promoted the recently failed attempts at constitutional reform in Grenada and St Vincent.

Independence for Anguilla: From time to time, someone raises the question whether Anguilla is not ready to seek immediate political independence from Britain. The British Government has repeatedly assured us that independence is the undoubted right of Anguillians, and that the UK will not place any obstacle in our way, once independence is shown to be desired by the majority of Anguillians. The Committee heard and read several presentations on the topic, both pro and con, and we were satisfied that the proposal to make a push for independence at this time has little or no public support.

We suspect that the Anguillian public would prefer to wait and see how the political parties deal with the institutions designed to protect good governance contained in the new constitutional proposals. It seems to us that the average Anguillian would not favour exposing his life, liberty and property to an administration that has not shown that it has learned how to govern under the proposed new dispensation which is designed to ensure and guarantee the attributes of transparency, integrity and accountability. That mistake was made by the independent Commonwealth Caribbean states around us, and does not need to be repeated by us.

Lessons Learned: In conclusion, it is generally accepted that any form of government that does not encourage public participation is the opposite of good governance. Since the introduction of universal adult suffrage in the West Indies after the Second World War, popular democracy has flourished in these islands. If poor governance now seems entrenched in our systems, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Our politicians may not always come with the highest integrity, morals or personal standards. But, by our failure to insist on genuine integrity, transparency, accountability, the proper handling of public finances, and the rule of law in public life and administration, we share responsibility for spurring on their greater excesses.
The End

By anguillian January 24, 2017 09:39


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