Political commentators renew call for Constitutional reform

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Political scientist Deveron Bruce. (Social media photo)
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One conclusion reached by political commentators over the weekend is that there is a need to restructure Parliament through Constitutional reform.

Observer radio’s, The Big Issues, visited the topic of how the British political system adopted by Antigua and Barbuda upon reaching Independence in 1981, has yet to translate well locally.

For example, in other countries across the globe, Parliament is a large body with many members whose purpose is to hold Cabinet Ministers accountable.

However, the small sizes of Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean countries in comparison with larger countries does not allow for many members, due to the fewer number of constituencies available for Parliamentary representation.

In a small country context, MP’s become Cabinet Ministers which can be problematic in situations where the ruling Administration has won the majority of seats, affecting the passage of legislation without the outside voices of other MP’s and Senators outside of Cabinet.

Antigua and Barbuda’s only attempt at Constitutional reform happened in 2018 by way of a referendum asking residents to decide on adopting the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the country’s final appellate court.

The bid for total judicial independence was struck down as it failed to garner the two-thirds majority vote from the public that was needed for it to be successful.

Barbados-based political scientist, Deveron Bruce, said that similar reforms where Cabinet Ministers are not all from the ruling party are needed across the region, and just not Antigua alone.

“One of the key things that we have to think about is how do we broaden the selection process as it relates to Cabinet? In Barbados, for instance, you are only allowed about three individuals into your Cabinet who are not elected members of the Senate. Maybe we have to think about how do we increase that number so that we can have a larger back bench within the Parliamentary setting,” Bruce outlined on Big Issues yesterday.

It becomes impractical to expect the legislature to demand accountability from the Cabinet, when most of the members of the legislature are also members of the Cabinet.

Political and social commentator, Carlon Knight, believes the system which could currently lead to a lack of accountability can be improved.

Perhaps it was a failure, might I argue, by the people who drafted the original Independence Constitution, and this goes to the whole idea of thinking beyond Westminster, or Constitutional reform in the Caribbean. Looking at what works for us. I don’t think there was enough consideration given to the peculiarities of a small island democracy,” Knight added.

Meanwhile, a political commentator from Trinidad and Tobago, Jade-Mark Sonilal, cited too few non Cabinet MPs to form Parliamentary committees on different issues as one of the most critical matters with smaller Parliaments in the region.

“Committees pose two key advantages. One – for the entirety of Parliament to understand a particular issue, and then two, that it is an opportunity for bipartisanship.”

The Trinidad and Tobago parliament has 41 MPs and 31 Senators.

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