Constitutional Reform. Right Back Where We Started?

First Published: 2001-07-01

by Rick Lowe

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil: in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
Thomas Pain (1737-1809).

It is fair to say that I am not a big supporter of the constitutional reform movement, but if the political elite say it must be changed then we need to ensure that freedom and democracy are protected. “More important, the role of the constitution is to protect freedom from democracy and the individual from the majority”.

With this in mind I would suggest that some very clear rules for the debate be circulated at the out set. Particular emphasis should be placed on ensuring the consensus of the entire nation. I can understand leaders feeling they want to put their stamp on the future direction of our country, and I am sure they will be well intentioned, but we must make them feel “the commanding impulse of public opinion” throughout the entire process. We must ensure the effects of any recommendations are properly considered as to what the impact may be on future generations.

Political Reform.

I sincerely hope that emphasis will be placed on political reform in this process. Four issues are uppermost in my mind: 1) Term limits of ten years for the Prime Minister, and fifteen years for Members of Parliament, 2) Better guidelines for establishing election boundaries, 3) Limits placed on the levels of national debt and budget deficits and, 4) Limits on the numbers in Cabinet and Parliament. Will most of our leaders have the political will to implement changes that would impact their longevity in office?

While I am a supporter of the Free National Movement (FNM), I remain extremely disappointed with what we did with the election boundaries, the national debt and the number of cabinet ministers. These are core issues that we hammered the Progressive Liberal Party on for many years while in opposition. In my view, future governments should not be allowed such wide powers.

Morality cannot be legislated but any law passed for private citizens should also apply to government ministries, departments, agencies and politicians.

Future Amendments.

Guidelines for future amendments should be equally as difficult as they are presently laid out. This is not a frivolous exercise to benefit the few. It should enhance democracy, freedom, the right to private property, the rule of law and the right of the individual.

Education is the Key.

Like the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement process, we must all educate ourselves with what has happened in other countries, not only in the region, but also throughout the world. If we allow a select few people to make all the decisions on issues like these, we run the risk of a threat to our democracy and freedom.

Freedom In Our Time.

Reforming any constitution is surely a process that should cause a nation-s people to take stock of what really needs to be changed. J. Brian Philips in his review of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense wrote that – “More than any other writer of his time, Thomas Paine made the ideas of the Enlightenment – individual rights and economic freedom – accessible to the public… The emergence of the entrepreneur as a modern hero is evidence of this, as is a greater willingness to consider private alternatives to functions traditionally performed by government. More than 200 years ago, one man – Thomas Paine – provided the key that unlocked the door to freedom. When our cause seems hopeless, we should remember this, for the knowledge that success is possible is the fuel that will propel us to our ultimate goal: freedom in our time.”

A few more questions come to mind:

I wonder if our government will have the strength to restrict their own powers in this process.

Who will be our Thomas Paine? (Thomas Paine was very influential with his thoughts in the USA prior to the war of independence).

And, we may go through this process and end up right back where we started?

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