The following is commentary by Shaina Smith-Archer.
I am glad to be alive for such a time as this. When I read about our national heroes like Hope Stevens and Howard. R. Penn and how they wrote our future in their “day,” we are currently writing the Virgin Islands’ future for the next 50 years. The men and women of that era laid the foundation for the society we enjoy today, and I pause to thank them for their sweat and tears that set the course for SELF-GOVERNANCE. The understanding then as it is now, is that a people have a right to make the decisions for their best interests and not be dictated to by others.
The re-institution of a locally elected legislature was not for show. We were being governed by a Governor based in Antigua and our social and economic conditions were in severe neglect. We lacked quality medical care and a basic education system compared to the other countries in the Leeward Islands. Our people travelled throughout the Caribbean region looking for jobs to sustain their families at home. (Does this sound familiar?) Some may say it was because of the small size of the country that the U.K. government didn’t make the necessary investments, but People are People, and they have a right to their basic needs being met and be given the opportunity to realise their potential, no matter how many square miles they reside on.
Every day, the present is becoming history, and in my mind the current constitution review is punching in the new coordinates for the destination of the unborn generation, and it is NOT to be taken lightly. Here are a few thoughts I shared with the current review commission for us to ponder while they “architect” the new constitutional framework that we will hang the future of this country on.
• I think the vison in the preamble needs to be clearer as to what the desired outcome is. If it is a full measure of self-governance as defined by the United Nations Charter, then there should be no doubt in a reader’s mind as to what the ambitions of the people are. If this can’t be stated in this review, then more public education is needed on the three political status options (integration, free association, or independence) of full self-government that are annually reaffirmed by the United Nations General Assembly.
• Commissions To promote the characteristics of good governance (rule of law, inclusiveness, participative, accountability, transparency, consensus driven, efficient & effective and strategic vision), we need additional institutions that check and balance the powers of the executive/Cabinet and legislative/House of Assembly bodies, as well as ensure continued constitutional advancement over the next decades.
We need to implement agencies such as the Human Rights Commission. It is inexcusable why this hasn’t been set up in 15 years. There needs to be a penalty when instances like this happen because it is not in the public interests and can be seen as a neglect of duty by the House of Assembly. A timeline should be made for when new institutions like this set-up should be established and not left open-ended.
In my research, I noted that in the Cayman Islands Constitution 2009, PART VIII Institutions Supporting Democracy has a list of institutions we do not have.
- Constitution Commission – is established as a permanent body.
- Commission for Standards in Public Life – would replace the Registrar of interests.
- District Advisory Council – would help bring inclusion of the civic society and accountability in district representation and they should be consulted on allocation of monies for small district projects.
- Freedom of Information – should be listed in the Constitution to ensure that legislation is enacted. Freedom of information is valuable to promoting good governance in any society. The people’s business should be EASILY accessible to the public for inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability. Abuse of power can be a result of an uninformed populace to the policies and laws being made excluding their involvement in some way, shape or form.
- Electoral District Boundary Commission It is time for an Electoral District Boundary Commission to assess the current legislative branch representation make-up and confirm whether additional districts are needed an/ or Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and JVD should be separate districts and if territorial representation is doing what it was intended to do – bring independent representation to the HoA.
- Statutory Bodies: I do not think another commission is needed to regulate them.
- The legislation of each statutory body should be reviewed and modernised to make them more autonomous from the Cabinet.
- Each statutory body’s Board should have a code of conduct for their members that align with the code of conduct for elected officials as they have been given a public trust to run the body in the public’s interests.
- Boards should not be appointed but an employment process carried out by the oversight Ministry.
Selah, let us pause and calmly think about that. End of Part 1