Better political maturity needed
Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009
By Derren Joseph
October 25, 2009
For the third week in a row, I continue to explore the debate on constitutional reform. By the time this is published, Dr Ghany's committee would have held two public meetings on constitutional reform. Regarding the case for constitutional reform in the first place, one issue that has jumped out at me is the issue of the Privy Council still being our final court of appeal. As a Trini and as a West Indian, I feel embarrassed as I follow this discussion. On a Caribbean Court of Justice Blog, an article from the "Financial Times" is reproduced "http://caribbeancourtofjustice.blogspot.com". In it, Lord Phillips, President of the new Supreme Court, said he was searching for ways to curb the "disproportionate" time he and his fellow senior justices spent hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth countries to the Privy Council in London.
Essentially, the article makes it very clear that it was a "minor public scandal" that judges in the UK's top court spent almost half their time on business "of no interest to anyone in the UK". It goes on to say that "if they didn't spend time in the Privy Council, the justices of the Supreme Court could hear almost twice as many cases coming up from the UK legal system." The article concludes by saying that this is both an "ideological stain and a financial drain on the newly-created Supreme Court". In a nutshell, they do not want us former colonies clogging up their system with our problems. Some argue that we are not yet ready for the Caribbean Court of Justice; others argue that we should effect the constitutional change needed to recognise the CCJ, and that this delay betrays the underlying issue—the immaturity of our politicians. This position holds that we should not just focus on the terms of our constitution, but the maturity and the attitude of the politicians we choose to represent our interests.
In discussing constitutional reform on Facebook, a contributor referenced the US presidential elections of 2000. Al Gore could have maintained his court challenge, but he chose not to do so, "for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy." Would that level of maturity have been displayed in a similar situation in Trinidad and Tobago? Or would the court challenge have continued to the detriment of us all? In looking at constitutional reform, there may be some benefit in keeping an eye out for potential occasions where clashes between parties could lead to the system grinding to a halt. One potential scenario would be if we had a US-type presidential system and different parties controlled the legislature and the executive. The Prime Minister drew reference to this "political immaturity" in justifying the proposal in the "Working Paper on Constitution Reform for Public Comment" for having the President being from the party that has a parliamentary majority.
This is something to seriously consider. But such consideration should be guided by the Reservations of Solomon Lutchman in the Report of the Wooding Commission on Constitutional Reform. He notes that "A new constitution, or any new set of clothes, cannot solve the ills of any society, unless there is a fundamental change of attitudes in the people for whom it is designed and the persons who must operate it." Lutchman goes on to say that "no constitution can be better than the society it serves or can work better than is willed by the operators. A constitution should encourage the collective effort of the society and be the vehicle whereby the collective social effort is encouraged and realised, not frustrated and perverted. Even where a constitution is defective, collective social effort and public awareness can modify its operation, and even where it is good, public apathy and perverse practices can frustrate the best political machinery."
Personally, one of my favourite parts is where Lutchman says that "The people are always, in the long run, wiser than their leaders, and the democratic system should provide continuous and succeeding opportunities for the good sense of the people to correct past mistakes and prevail." Perhaps, there is no magical constitution to resolve our issues. Some say, the real magic probably lies in supporting leaders who bring out the best in us and encourage us to be better citizens.