The Constitutional Reform Commission has recommended that the existing Electoral Commission and Constituency Boundaries Commission should be merged and called the Electoral and Constituency Boundaries Commission.
The Commission, headed by the late Justice Suzie d’Auvergne, in its report, spoke of the need to reform the Constituency Boundaries Commission to better insulate it from partisan political interference. The Boundaries Commission has repeatedly been tainted with accusations of political interference in its deliberations. Its most recent report on boundary changes is now being challenged in the courts.
Today, THE VOICE concludes its serializing of Chapter Five of the Constitutional Commission’s report which has to do with REFORMING OUR PARLIAMENT:
MINISTERS OF RELIGION
The debate about the role of Ministers of Religion that formed part of the Marlborough House discussions in 1978 continued inside the Commission insofar as they can be appointed to the Senate. There was much debate on the question of whether Ministers of Religion should continue to be barred from standing in elections. Commissioners were divided in their discussions on this matter. Some argued that Saint Lucian society is a very religious one and at election time Ministers of Religion may have an unfair advantage. Others felt that the principle of the separation between Church and State is one which has stood the test of time.
Further arguments were that the Constitution of Saint Lucia had a Westminster foundation in which ecclesiastical representation was permitted in the House of Lords. In the Caribbean, other territories had removed this restriction thereby permitting Ministers of Religion to participate in electoral politics.
After much debate the Commission was unable to arrive at a consensus. The majority of the members of the Commission agreed to maintain the status quo.
(93) With respect to ministers of religion participating in electoral politics, the Commission recommends that the status quo should be retained.
Electoral and Constituency Boundaries Commissions The Commission considered the Electoral Commission and the Constituency Boundaries Commission to determine whether the institutions should be merged or kept separate. On the one hand, the Commission considered a submission that the method of appointment of the Constituency Boundaries Commission left it vulnerable to undue partisan political influence, while the Electoral Commission managed to enjoy a degree of independence.
On the other hand it was argued before the Commission that the Constituency Boundaries Commission was too important to be politicised and could benefit significantly from the independence enjoyed by the Electoral Commission. The question before the Commission was how to reform the Constituency Boundaries Commission to better insulate it from partisan political interference.
In making its decision, the Commission noted that the current separation of the two commissions did not permit achievement of the purposes for which they were designed. Accordingly, the Commission believes that if the institutions were merged the Constituency Boundary Commission could be given the level of independence that it did not currently enjoy, provided that the manner of appointment of its membership followed the pattern of appointment of the current Electoral Commission. However, itwas argued that with the merging of the two institutions, the membership should comprise five (5) persons. These persons would be appointed as follows:
A chairperson appointed by the President after due consultation with the Prime Minister and the Minority Leader; Two (2) persons appointed by the President acting in his own deliberate judgement; One (1) person appointed on the nomination of the Prime Minister; and One (1) person appointed on the nomination of the Minority Leader. It was agreed that the Head of State should be given greater power of appointment. The Commission was therefore of the view that the Head of State should have the power to nominate three (3) persons to the Electoral and Constituency Boundaries Commission. In their view the enhanced role of the President in the selection of the membership of the Commissions would afford the Commissioners a greater level of independence inasmuch as the President would now have greater independence than that enjoyed by the office of the Governor-General under the Independence Constitution.
With respect to the Electoral Commission and the Constituency Boundaries Commission, the Commission recommends the following:
(94) The existing Electoral Commission and Constituency Boundaries Commission should be merged and called the Electoral and Constituency Boundaries Commission.
(95) The membership of the Electoral and Constituency Boundaries Commission should comprise five (5) persons appointed as follows:
A chairperson appointed by the President after due consultation with the Prime Minister and the Minority Leader;
Two (2) persons appointed by the President acting in his own deliberate judgement;
One (1) person appointed on the nomination of the Prime Minister; and One (1) person appointed on the nomination of the Minority Leader.