October 29, 2009

Phillips calls for more constitutional reforms
Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Dr Peter Phillips said the time has come to reconsider barring people with dual allegiances from sitting in Parliament.

"The world has changed significantly," Phillips told members of the House of Representatives, as he made his contribution to the debate on the Charter of Rights inside Gordon House on Tuesday.

The Charter of Rights is intended to replace chapter three of the Jamaican Constitution. The proposed reform seeks to enshrine the sovereignty of the people, guaranteeing rights which are today a privilege.

On Tuesday, Phillips said that revisiting the provision relating to persons with divided loyalty being allowed to sit in Parliament and in some sensitive positions should form part of a broader constitutional reform.

The Constitution currently bars persons who have pledged allegiance or acknowledged adherence or obedience to a foreign power from being Parliamentarians.

Phillips' opposition People's National Party (PNP) had used the divided loyalty provision to force the disqualification of government members Daryl Vaz, Gregory Mair and Michael Stern from the House. The members were subsequently returned after by-elections in their constituencies.

Constitutional absurdity

Prime Minister Bruce Golding has said there exists a constitu-tional absurdity which allows Commonwealth citizen to be eligible to be elected to Parliament, yet disqualifies a Jamaican who has allegiance to a foreign power.

On Tuesday, Phillips said "the significance of the Commonwealth in our national life was much different in 1962 from what it is now".

"The number of Jamaicans living in non-commonwealth countries is very significant," Phillips said.

However, Phillips noted that "there are some critical positions in our parliament, and in our foreign service, where we ought to have clear and undivided loyalty to Jamaica".

Meanwhile, Phillips urged Parliament to "restart the engine that gave us this joint select committee report" and reconstitute another committee on constitutional reform.

Issues for examination

The PNP strongman wants that committee to examine, not only dual citizenship issues but, the Caribbean Court of justice, the appointment of a President, as head of state and a method of appointing two senate seats not appointed by the prime minister or the leader of the Opposition.

"A new constitution will not solve all our problems, but it can give a sense of new beginning," Phillips said while praising the efforts of the Parliament for demonstrating the will to debate the Charter of Rights.

The East Central St Andrew member said Parliament had no excuse for stalling constitutional reforms for 32 years.

"The length of time that it has taken is symptomatic of some of the ills that have plagued our political process, not least of which has been excessive partisanship and the search for political one-upmanship," Phillips said.

According to Phillips, "if we succeed at this we can blot out some of the failings of the past and perhaps give our people new hope and a new beginning with a more effective set of constitutional arrangements".

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