The Constitutional Review Commission, headed by Lisa Penn-Lettsome (left), is still seeking input from the community on what changes should be made to the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

The window to provide feedback on the territory’s next Constitution is likely to close next month, and the Constitutional Review Commission is strongly encouraging residents to weigh in.

In recent weeks, the CRC’s outreach efforts have included television broadcasts, interviews and more than two dozen community consultations across the territory.

“Remember, the decisions we make today will affect generations yet unborn,” constitutional commissioner Dr. Melvin Turnbull said at the 25th community consultation on Dec. 8 at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.

The panel of members at that session — which was broadcast live on Facebook — also included Chairwoman Lisa Penn-Lettsome, who joined the premier and opposition leader in a press conference last month to urge community members to take the time to review the Constitution, consider what values they believe should be reflected in an updated version, and make their voices heard.

Other panellists joining them included fellow CRC members Maya Barry, Tanya Cassie-Parker, Susan Demers, Coy Levons, Bernadine Louis, Dr. Benedicta Samuels, Ronnie Skelton, Rajah Smith, and Dr. Charles Wheatley. Noni Georges attended remotely.

Public input

The CRC has wide-ranging issues to consider under its terms of reference, including the accountability of executive ministerial government; the effectiveness of independent institutions; the reservation and devolution of gubernatorial powers; how any powers taken from the governor’s portfolio would be reallocated; campaign financing regulation; oversight of statutory boards; and whether the speaker of the House of Assembly should be an elected position.

However, the committee has noted that it is open to considering all sorts of constitutional issues brought to its attention by the public.

Ms. Penn-Lettsome said on Dec. 8 that many community members are being introduced to the constitutional review process for the first time, which is part of the reason the CRC has worked to provide easily accessible educational resources.

She added that members plan to close the public comment window next month so they will have time to compile their final report for the premier and governor by the end of next year.

The report will then be considered in Cabinet and laid in the House of Assembly, after which a negotiating team will be established to work with the United Kingdom on finalising the document.

“The report should reflect your recommendations,” Ms. Penn-Lettsome said.

She noted that there is a lot to consider when determining what should be added to the Constitution. Every amendment, she explained, has the potential to conflict with existing legislation.

During the Dec. 8 session, the commission also welcomed input from guests including opposition member Carvin Malone and Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who urged the community to consider the VI’s non-self-governing status.

Mr. Malone said the new commission has had a limited amount of time to solicit feedback, and he encouraged the community to get involved now.

UK relationship

One frequent discussion topic has been the territory’s relationship with the United Kingdom and whether the public wants the VI to seek greater autonomy in managing its own affairs.

As currently described in the Constitution, the UK is the “administering power for the time being” and is meant to engage in a “modern partnership” with the VI.

Dr. Charles Wheatley, who led the conversation in the second portion of the Dec. 8 meeting centred around self-determination, said everyone should make their opinions on this issue known.

He also urged the public to take time to review related historical documents.

The public joined in the conversation both in person and virtually.

Some, including Daphne Callwood, said they don’t want to completely sever the VI’s relationship with the UK, but rather move toward greater autonomy within the existing framework.

“I would like to see the UK take a more supportive role in its relationship towards this territory in helping us pave the way to a more self-governing role on our own time schedule rather than the hard-handed approach they are now displaying in the form of their now colonial ruling style,” she wrote in a comment under the Facebook broadcast.

Others focused on elections in the territory. Suggestions included allowing the public to directly elect the premier rather than having the winning party select a leader; requiring leaders to run for positions like deputy governor; and enacting term limits.