|Reform process kicked off||| Print ||
|Thursday, 27 May 2010 13:05|
Tuesday’s open forum meeting in Grand Turk proved to be a “helpful and useful” exercise, according to Kate Sullivan, leader of the ongoing constitutional and electoral reform process.
During the four-hour open session, a dozen individuals presented their views on how the constitution should or should not change, as well as their opinions about electoral reform.
Among the presenters were four former chief ministers, including Norman Saunders Sr., Washington Misick, Oswald Skippings and Derek Taylor.
Consultative Forum Chairwoman Lillian Misick described the meeting as a point from which to launch the constitutional and electoral reform exercise. She said the forum asked individuals to come and lead the process, “persons like those who are in the political area,” as well as the general public.
As each person spoke, Sullivan diligently took notes and at times explained matters touched on by speakers.
While each person brought up unique points, most said the current 2006 constitution was fundamentally sound and only required minor adjustments to make it stronger.
Several speakers pointed out that many of the problems the country currently faces have more to do with a lack of good judgement by members of the government than with deficiencies in the constitution.
“We cannot legislate the behaviour of people, they must chose to live right in accordance with the dictates of their conscience,” explained Pastor Vernon Malcolm. “We must close the loopholes that have led us to where we are.”
Former Chief Minister Washington Misick said the current problems had less to do with the constitution and more with the administration of the islands. That point was reiterated by former Forum Chairman Carlos Simons, who said, “A great deal of what when wrong was due to a lack of attention by the (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and by its principal agents on the ground in the TCI.”
Misick said that while the country was given a level of autonomy and to some extent “we have abused that,” it happened under the watch of a system that had a governor sitting in government as a president of the executives.
“The responsibility of the governor and the elected government must be taken into consideration and not just the 2006 constitution itself,” said Derek Taylor, echoing what others also suggested.
The office and responsibilities of the Attorney General’s office were also addressed as a cause for concern. “We must look at a way to separate the responsibilities of the Attorney General,” Taylor said.
Currently the AG acts as a criminal prosecutor for crimes against the country as well as a lawyer to the government formulating legislation and addressing contracts made between the government and other entities such as developers. It was suggested this role is cumbersome and overburdening on the resources of the office, and consideration should be given to separating the roles in order to eliminate a backlog in that office.
Suggestions were made that the office of the leader of the opposition party be strengthened to create a stronger checks and balances system in the country. “This would prevent one side railroading the minority in public,” said E. Jay Saunders.
The number of meetings of the House of Assembly required by the constitution also caused concern for several presenters.
Representative for the Grand Turk Chamber of Commerce Erwin Jones suggested the current constitutional requirement to meet only four times a year be widened, requiring them to meet at least once a month. “We need to get politicians in this house to conduct the peoples business,” he said.
One of the repeated topics during the meeting was the bestowal of Belongerships. This issue is of especial importance with regard to voting rights and suggestion of enlargement of the voting franchise.
“That is one area that will unite all Turks and Caicos Islanders,” said Norman Saunders Sr. He and several others suggested that the definition of a Belonger and Belonger rights be carefully considered and protected. Some even suggested reserving it only for those physically born in the country.
Political contributions and how political parties are regulated was also a cause for concern for many. E. Jay Saunders suggested a cap could be considered for campaign spending, possibly based on the size of the registered voter base. Saunders called it a tragedy during the current economic climate when politicians are spending millions of dollars trying to win an election.
“You should be able to win a on your platform,” he said. He also said that a candidate vetting process should be put in place so that the country can be assured its politicians are respected the world over.
Sullivan concluded the meeting by thanking everyone for their participation. She added that she is hopeful more people will get involved as the year moves along.
Individuals will have this chance in the coming week when the group takes the meetings on the road, visiting all the islands over the next 10 days. Misick urged everyone who has a view to come out and share that view.
“The constitution is not something you fiddle with every day,” she said. “This is an opportunity to address whatever wrongs we may perceive or shortcomings or weaknesses in the constitution. We have an opportunity to do so now.”
Schedule of open meetings on reform
Friday 28-May: Providenciales, Gustavus Lightbourne Sport Complex, 6-9 p.m.
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