Vaneisa: Perhaps we should replace, not reform, our Constitution

I suggested that people might not be offering their views on constitutional reform because they do not know what is contained in the country’s Constitution. I may be familiar with its nitty-gritty, but I can’t say I have a total grasp of what it covers.

And that’s a point I want to make.

President Christine Kangaloo (centre) makes a point to her predecessor, Paula-Mae Weekes, during the former’s inauguration on 20 March 2023.
(Copyright Office of the Prime Minister)

In many spheres, it is a matter of pride for practitioners to heighten the importance of their roles by portraying their expertise as too complicated for a lay person to understand. It contributes to a feeling that the opinions of those outside those realms are ­inconsequential.

I don’t believe you have to know the details of the Constitution to participate; in fact, I think that the less you know about the words and sections, the better prepared you are to talk about what you feel a constitution should constitute.

I think it should reflect us, who we believe we are, and I would like to cite the letter from Ashton Brereton, which appeared in Tuesday’s Express—because he had a proposal that was both practical and insightful.

Independence Day 2023 in Port of Spain.
Photo: OPM

Saying that the exercise seemed based on a notion that the existing Constitution needed tweaking or fixing, he suggested that it might actually need to be scrapped and replaced, and we need to know what people think.

“Stop asking people for what specific changes they would like to see made to the existing Constitution. Instead, ask individuals, groups and organisations to state/describe what they would like to see available and achievable for the quality of life for all of the citizens of this country.

“And then ask why they believe what they are describing is not fully, currently available in this country. And then ask what they believe should be done to correct the situation. A great deal of useful information will come out of answers to these questions.

A resident makes a point to the TTPS during a townhall meeting.
(Copyright TTPS)

“And here is where my second suggestion is generated: either on its own or through/with the expertise of other persons—long available in large numbers in this country—using the information from the feedback from the public, the Committee should then prepare a document listing what the people want and, most ­importantly, from its analysis of the public’s responses, how best it is assessed that the people’s objectives may be achieved; through specific items of constitutional reform or whatever other means may be appropriate.”

I think he is on to something valuable here. It’s not right to quiz people about their knowledge of the Constitution, apart from probably intimidating them—it frames the discourse within the parameters of what exists, which may no longer be relevant to us as a society.

Patrons enjoy themselves at Her Excellency’s Diamond Jubilee Bandstand Concert Series at President’s House.
(via Office of the President)

It is a pity, a shame really, that the conduct of educational practices continues to be such a short-sighted one. On Tuesday as well, in Newsday, ­TTUTA outlined some of the long-term deleterious effects on the culture of learning.

“The net effect of these factors was the evolution of an education system that is defined by needless high-stakes examinations, starting with SEA, that essentially certifies more children as failures rather than successes based on the choice criteria.”

The removal of classes on social studies from primary schools is just one element of the disregard for children knowing about their country, about socialising, about their history, about the principles of civic-mindedness; and it has contributed significantly to the billowing indifference about community.

Students unwind after taking the 2023 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams.
Photo: Ministry of Education

What our Constitution addresses should be taught to children—not as a lesson to be learned by rote, but as discussions as to why we have agreed to live by the ideas contained within such a document, and how ­participation matters.

It’s really not so much about knowing the laws, but understanding why they exist, and the kind of social pact we enter with each other as occupants of a space.

I want to come to another factor in the general reticence to participate and the downright opposition to the idea of constitutional reform: political pressure.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley votes during the Electoral College at Parliament on 20 January 2023.
(Copyright Office of Parliament 2023)

If you take people who feel they don’t know enough about a subject, who feel intimidated by the ­highfalutin aura surrounding it, and you come out and castigate it, they will accept and follow your lead.

So when the reform committee gets lambasted on flimsy grounds, it doesn’t matter how insubstantial the accusations are, it only matters that they are being rejected… by a leader they are accustomed to blindly obeying.

And to slightly veer here—just ­slightly: when calls for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the Privy Council as our final appellate body get sneered at for frivolously political reasons, that to me is an abysmal betrayal of our nationhood.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is compared to the Privy Council.

To stir people up on the basis that nothing of our own can have integrity, that political interference would be rife, is really to point fingers at yourselves. If this is how one has experienced the concept of the Judiciary (perhaps because of how ­often one has tweaked its robes), then this lack of faith in our institutions has come from wilful erosions from within.

Do we really not feel that it is far more appropriate to strengthen our own institutions than to continue to have ourselves judged by people from a culture that once (and perhaps still) relegates us to subservient and subhuman categories?

The Committee has reported a preponderance of responses from younger people. That’s encouraging, because it is a sign of hope for the future. Their future.

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