|Constitutional reform up for public review||| Print ||
|Thursday, 05 August 2010 10:56|
Election reform, Belongership and government finance were just a few of the topics in a wide-ranging list of initial recommendations for change submitted by Kate Sullivan, the TCI’s Constitutional and Electoral Reform Adviser.
The proposals would increase the power and oversight of the governor, put the deputy governor in charge of the public service and set out sound financial procedures for sustainable government spending.
Sullivan also proposes a new voting system that would award seats in the House of Assembly in proportion to votes cast, providing more equal representation while protecting against intimidation and influence.
Sullivan plans another round of public meetings in September to gather comments and suggestions on her initial report. Then a draft Constitution Order will be prepared and offered for public comment toward the end of the year.
A final version will go to U.K. ministers and finally to the Privy Council for the Queen’s Assent. Sullivan told the Consultative Forum on Aug. 3 that she expects the Constitution to be in place in time for elections next summer.
Both the People’s Democratic Movement and the Progressive National Party have refused to take part in the reform process, instead saying they would hold their own process to recommend reforms.
“I have not had anything from either of the political parties, neither have I met with them,” Sullivan said at a press conference Aug. 4. “I will be offering them a meeting again, as I did in my last round of consultation, and like everybody in the TCI, they are welcome to come along to the public meetings.”
“I know they have their own process going on, and they are taking their own soundings from their supporters, and again, if they publish something or submit something to me, I will be happy to take those views into account,” she said.
Elections and finance
Sullivan’s proposals would make some big changes in elections and political parties, especially in campaign finance — one of the areas criticized in Sir Robin Auld’s Commission of Inquiry report in July 2009.
No longer could rich developers give massive six-figure sums to politicians and parties. Violating campaign finance and other rules could remove a politician from office and subject them to fines.
The report also proposes that the Constitution not include an automatic right to trial by jury, a recommendation in the Commission of Inquiry report.
“Many countries have criminal trials without a jury, and not all overseas territories have the constitutional right to trial by jury in their constitutions there is no such right under the constitutions of Anguilla or the Cayman Islands,” the report said. “There is no right to trial by jury in every case in the UK, and recent arrangements have been made for trials without jury, including in very serious cases.”
Minor criminal cases in the TCI are already heard without juries.
As for who can vote, Sullivan recommends restricting it to Belongers, but only if a transparent, objective process to earn Belongership is in place before the next election. She recommends that to become a Belonger — other than by marriage or birth — a person must have a Permanent Resident Certificate for five years, be a British Overseas Citizen and be “of good character and is neither under sentence or bankrupt.”
If that process is not in place by the next election, she recommends allowing all those holding PRCs for at least 10 years be allowed to vote until the new Belonger process is in place.
“It is important to remember a lot of people do not want to become Belongers because they are desperate to vote,” Sullivan said. “They are interested in applying for Belongership because they think it is an important sign of the commitment they have made to the Turks and Caicos, and they want to see that commitment recognized.”
PRCs and the path to receive them should also be changed, Sullivan said. There should be only one type of PRC that grants residency and work and be available to those having skills in a “required” category, having independent means, or holding a valid work permit for a specified period.
New work visas should be either settlement or non-settlement — depending on whether the person intends to reside permanently and pursue permanent residency.
Sullivan suggests keeping 15 elected ministers but eliminating the current four appointed ministers, plus reducing the size of the cabinet to five ministers, including the premier.
Responding to concerns that the government did not meet often enough, the report says the cabinet should meet every two weeks and the House nine times annually, and at least every six weeks.
The recently seated, independent Integrity Commission will be required to draft a code of conduct for public officials and will have the power to remove ministers from office for breach of the code.
The deputy governor’s office would also be changed, allowing non-Belongers to seek the position. The deputy governor would be the head of the public service and a non-voting member of the cabinet.
The Public Service Commission should be reduced from five to three members, and the governor should no longer be required to approve the commission’s appointments for department heads and permanent secretaries.
“It should be the governor’s expectation that disciplinary matters will be dealt within departments and agencies, and not by the Public Service Commission,” Sullivan said.
The attorney general’s role would be limited to providing advice to the government and serving in the cabinet, but prosecution of crimes would be handled by a new, independent Director of Public Prosecutions.
You can read the complete report on the governor’s Web site at http://turksandcaicosislands.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/constitutional-electoral-review/. Printed copies of the report will also be available at the district commissioners offices on all islands and at the Governor’s Office in Grand Turk and Providenciales.
Public meetings will be held according to the following timetable:
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