Former leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Verla DePeiza is enthralled by the Charter of Barbados produced by the Mia Mottley administration. De Peiza, one of five panelists at a recent virtual town hall meeting on Constitutional Reform and the Republic, was particularly impressed with the provision in the Charter that called for personal responsibility as an integral part of rights.
“The Charter itself is an advancement on the constitutional position that we held before; and I hold that position, not just for the reasons that would ordinarily spring to mind in terms of the enlargement of the groups that are mentioned and singled out as deserving and having rights,” De Peiza said on Sunday.
“For the first time, we have a potential document that will also delineate responsibilities for citizens. So it has gone a step beyond just rights to seek, at least in these loose terms, towards the other responsibilities toward the environment responsibilities in relation to participation,” the attorney-at-law pointed out.
“I was particularly enthralled by the idea of participation as a responsibility…because we have in recent times, noted a slide in terms of the participation in active politics and I am not only speaking in terms of those who step up to represent.”
De Peiza felt that “just simply presenting yourself at a polling station to register a ballot,” is a form of participation.
She argued that for the first time in the history of Barbados, less than 50 per cent of the eligible population participated in a general election poll, referring to the January 2022 election.
“So the entire conversation surrounding the rights of citizens, also flipping the coin and giving responsibilities was attractive to me because we need to be retraining our minds as to what citizenship really means,” De Peiza suggested.
The former DLP leader also contended that the church needs to be allowed at the table when issues such as constitutional reform and rights are being discussed.
Another panelist and attorney at law Michelle Russell suggested that members of the Constitutional Reform Commission should recommend the inclusion of the constitution in the schools’ curriculum.
“Let us start there. Go to the high schools and have a subject in constitutional law. It could be a semester so that the average Barbadian would come up with a basic understanding of what the constitution is,” an animated Russell declared. She was also adamant that there was a need for a national public education programme on the constitution.
Jamaican sociologist and researcher Dr Latoya Lazarus also sought to make a case for the church to be intimately involved in the constitutional reform and rights debate.
“Like these legal scholars and others, I take the position that religious institutions, groups and others should be given a space to participate in the legal reform process that affects them as interest groups in the society and as part of our civil society,” Dr Lazarus contended.
Jadia Pierre, another attorney from St Lucia believes that constitutional reform ought to spell out the rights of citizens, particularly interest groups. She identified for example, the inadequacies of the St Lucia constitution.
“Our constitution is inadequate; It does not speak to our present circumstances. Our society has changed a lot,” Pierre said.
She believes that citizens are confused about what they are, particularly because of the language used in the constitution.
“Let’s say for example, the provision which speaks to protection from discrimination, protection as it relates to right to life, your family life etcetera -because in the preamble there is no recognition for sexual orientation, you would find that everything that flows from that particular right, remains open in the air,” the attorney argued.
She contended that it almost always comes down to the point that this is not a right known to the constitution.
“So if you classify yourself as being gay and there are provisions in particular laws that would not directly speak to your circumstances, then there is a right to deny you, or there is a right to bypass you or overlook you,” she observed.
Grenadian attorney Ruggles Fergusson insisted that constitution reform is an ongoing process and has to be given time to develop.
“What is critical in all of this is the injection of resources. In other words, the state has to recognise the importance of it and to inject the necessary resources,” Fergusson declared. e[email protected]