A useful tool for our 'governance'
A review by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 11, 2003

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IT MAY be more relevant to some Caribbean Community states than Guyana at this time, but it is a book that could be a useful tool in the widening debates on constitutional reform and options for democratic governance.

With all the rhetoric on "options for governance" -- in Guyana the focus now is on "greater inclusive governance" -- a West Indian academic, Professor Simeon McIntosh, has come forward with a published work that should enhance public discussions on the way we are governed or ought to be governed in our Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Reputedly the first book to be written on Caribbean constitutional theory, it focuses on three areas: Constitutional reform and Caribbean Political Identity; The Bill of Rights in West Indian independence constitutions; and "The Case for a Caribbean Supreme Court" (what now carries the name as a Caribbean Court of Justice).

It covers a range of issues that often provoke emotional debates across the region, such as: Relevance of the inherited Westminster monarchical system of governance which came with the dawn of independence 40 years ago.

The issues also include strengths and weaknesses of the electoral systems of first-past-the-post and proportional representation; establishment of a final appellate court for the region and abolition of the Privy Council located in London.

There is also the overriding issue of the necessity for CARICOM states to break with a colonial environment in their governance system by a patriation process that removes, once and for all, what the author points to as the "stigma of imperial enactedness from our constitutions".

Guyana, with its executive presidential system does not fall into such a category.

McIntosh feels that this patriation process would begin the completion of "an unfinished nationalist project of constructing an authentic post-colonial Commonwealth Caribbean identity" and end the "constitutional absurdities" reflected in the constitutions by which the people of independent CARICOM states are governed.

His book could be viewed as a helpful companion to Professor Selwyn Ryan's earlier published (1999) insightful, lucid assessment of "winner takes all" politics, in which he reveals his own deep reservations about the relevance of "the Westminster experience in the anglophone Caribbean".

McIntosh tells us about his inspiration for writing the book -- one stripped of jargons and cliches that should help to make it easy reading for much more than the professionals of the world of academe, the legal fraternity, or the 'experts' and 'specialists' in constitutional government.

Inspiration came from Caribbean icons like the novelist and social commentator, George Lamming and Rex Nettleford, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, as well as Richard Kay, Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Political scientist Ryan dedicated his "Winner Takes All" to West Indian icons Lloyd Best and Gladstone Mills, as well as to the memories of the late political scientists and pollsters, Carl Stone and Patrick Emmanuel.

Both Ryan's and McIntosh's publications deserve to be on the bookshelf of any who has more than a passing interest in the business of our democratic governance.

In CARICOM states like Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana where there are currently controversies among governing and opposition parties about the structure, powers and functioning of constitutionally-created bodies such as the Judicial and Police Service Commissions, McIntosh's arguments on the need to rethink governance in our community of sovereign states should have a particular appeal.

The case advanced by McIntosh for severing links with the British Crown and replacing the Privy Council with our own final appellate court -- both issues that generate much emotional debates between advocates and opponents -- would also make it a reference source in countries like Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

In those jurisdictions governments have already signalled their interest in moving to the status of a constitutional republic.

The choice open to them, as to other CARICOM states pursuing constitutional reform, would vary between what McIntosh identifies as a parliamentary or presidential republic, or an executive (Guyana) and non-executive (Trinidad and Tobago) Head of State to replace what currently obtains in so many regional states -- a Governor General, the Queen's representative, as Head of State.

McIntosh's argument in favour of a post-colonial Caribbean identity may also be relevant in pursuing constitutional reform in sensitive areas like the excessive powers in the hands of a Prime Minister.

It was a matter formally raised a year ago by the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves -- when he urged some radical departures.

He was then addressing a Conference on Constitutional Reform in the Caribbean, sponsored by the Organisation of American States in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme and the UWI Cave Hill Campus.

Gonsalves had focused attention on, among other issues, the need for strengthening individual rights, deepening political democracy and ensuring more accountability and transparency in government.

In his third and final chapter, McIntosh, who is Professor of Jurisprudence of the UWI, leaves the reader in no doubt about his support for a Caribbean Court of Justice, knowing that this may not sit comfortably with critics of such a regional institution who favour a retention of access to the Privy Council.

"What is needed", he argues, "is not that our judges (for a regional appellate court) be removed from the social and political circumstances of our communal life but, rather, that they possess the quality of mind that would allow them to read local circumstances critically in coming to principled and reasoned decisions in individual cases..."

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