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,” I realise that 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. The understanding then, as it is now, is that a people have a right to make the decisions for their own best interest and not be dictated to by others.
The re-institution of a locally elected legislature in 1950 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 and territories 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 territory that the United Kingdom government didn’t make the necessary investments, but people are people, and they have a right to have their basic needs met and to 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 constitutional review is punching in the new coordinates for the destination of the unborn generation. The review, then, is not to be taken lightly.
Here are a few thoughts I shared with the current Constitutional Review Commission for us to ponder while they “architect” the new constitutional framework on which we will hang the future of this territory.
- I think the vison in the preamble needs to be clearer as to the desired outcome. If the agreed goal 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 the ambitions of the people. 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 UN General Assembly.
- Commissions should be established to promote the characteristics of good governance (rule of law, inclusiveness, participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, efficiency and efficacy under a 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 also needs to be a penalty for such delays, which are not in the public interest 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 should be established and not left open-ended.
In my research, I noted that in the 2009 Cayman Islands Constitution, “Part VIII: Institutions Supporting Democracy” has a list of institutions we do not have:
- a Constitution Commission established as a permanent body;
- a Commission for Standards in Public Life to replace the registrar of interests;
- a District Advisory Council to help bring inclusion of the civic society and accountability in district representation, and to be consulted on allocation of monies for small district projects; and
- a requirement for freedom of information legislation to be enacted.
Our new Constitution should include similar bodies. Freedom of information is especially 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.
My other suggestions are various.
- 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 and/or whether Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke should be separate districts and if territorial representation is doing what it was intended to do — bring independent representation to the HOA.
- I do not think another commission is needed to regulate statutory bodies, but 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 also have a code of conduct for their members that aligns 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: Instead, an employment process should be carried out by the oversight ministry.
Let us pause and calmly think about that.