First district meeting held by Constitutional Commission
The 17 people who gathered at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre heard introductory remarks from commission chairman Al Ebanks and viewed a slide presentation narrated by Wil Pineau. They and attorney Julene Banks then took questions and comments from the audience.
The role of the Constitutional Commission is to advise government on questions concerning Constitutional status and development, promote understanding of the Constitution and its values, and publish relevant information papers.
“We can only make recommendations,” Mr. Ebanks explained. “While we see our role as a step toward more open governance, we also have to acknowledge it is limited. We will aggressively present any views presented to us by a majority,” he pledged.
Later he elaborated, “We can make all the recommendations we want, but we have to depend on the politicians to pass the laws.”
From the audience, Andy McCoy pointed out that the Constitution just got voted on, coming into effect in November 2009; he wondered why it was being reviewed already.
Mr. Ebanks said there was a fairly large segment of the population that did not vote for the Constitution in the Islands’ first referendum, in May 2009 — the same date as General Elections — and there were still concerns about what did and did not get into the final document. He indicated there were advantages to dealing with the Constitution outside the election process, which sometimes created its own set of challenges. “I think it’s a good thing to keep engaged with people as to what they think is missing,” Mr. Ebanks said.
Reasons for meeting
Mr. McCoy said it was hard to see the advantages in the new Constitution and maybe the format of meetings about it should change.
Ms Banks agreed the Constitution could be pretty dry reading. That was one reason for the public meetings — to help people be more aware of changes, such as District Advisory Councils, a director of public prosecutions and a Commission for Standards in Public Life. “I think a lot more people will perk up when the Bill of Rights comes into effect in 2012,” she said.
Mr. Pineau said the commission wanted to write a simple version of the Constitution so it would excite people. Members had talked about colouring books and comic books for young people, but there was not much of a budget to work with.
District MLA Ezzard Miller said people would not be interested until something directly affected their lives. He predicted the Bill of Rights would not have much impact because without enabling legislation it would not give a lot of protection.
Mr. Miller also suggested that there was public apathy because when people did come to public meetings and make recommendations, they were ignored by the political directorate. He said the Constitution does not give the courts the power to strike down laws that do not comply with the Constitution.
Mr. Ebanks said the Constitution has advanced because of changes made by the present generation. “We have a whole generation coming behind us. They may not think the way we do,” he said.
Mr. Miller said he had always advocated setting a date for independence and working toward it.
“We’re going to have to be a lot more together if we’re going to run our own show,” Mr. McCoy observed.