THE PAN-AFRIKAN LIBERATOR

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THE VOICE FOR AN INDEPENDENT MONTSERRAT

Published by Chedmond Browne, P.O. Box 197, Plymouth, Montserrat Phone: 809-491-6962 FAX: 809-491-6335

M.P. Chedmond Browne, Chairman Of Select Committee On Constitutional Reform.


TRANSCRIPT OF ZJB RADIO INTERVIEW WITH PARLIAMENTARIAN, CHEDMOND BROWNE BY RADIO ZJB MANAGER, HERMAN SERGEANT, Aired on April 21, 2004--


H. Sergeant: Good day ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this interview with Mr. Chedmond Browne, the hon. Chedmond Browne, Member of Parliament and now Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution. Good day to you, Mr. Browne.

C. Browne: Good day to you Herman. Good day to all our radio listeners.

H. Sergeant: It is always a pleasure to have you here on the radio to enlighten our listeners on—at this point in time, however, on the Constitution. What is the latest as far as that is concerned since our last interview with you some time in February?

C. Browne: Progress has been slow but in a matter of the Constitution, it is my opinion that we need to move slowly. We can’t move too fast. What has happened since my last interview here is that the Committee took to Council a set of ideas.
· One was the idea that we would bring to Council on a regular basis, small pieces of the ideas that we are attempting to put together—which Council agreed to and vetted.

· Another idea that we took to Council was the fact that we needed an additional member to sit on the Committee because a member from the Bar Association had left. So we requested of Council that we again request from the Bar Association, a member to sit with us, and Council agreed to that suggestion also. So we have in fact written to the Bar Association. We expect them to give us a member from their organization to join us in our deliberations.
· I had also suggested through the Committee to Council that we need, in fact, a real constitutional lawyer to give us some advice and some help in these matters.
Unfortunately, Council didn’t respond to that suggestion so I’m going to have to take back that suggestion again to Council because we can’t follow up on it unless the Legislative Council vets it so that suggestion was not taken on board.
We have subsequently had a meeting of the Committee. We did it to specifically to accommodate the hon. Dr. Lewis since he’s not on island and he was here at the time.
We held a special sitting so that we could have some input from him and he could get some feedback from us as to what is happening.
We had some deliberations on that and we drew certain conclusions.
Let me be frank and say we were not always in agreement but this is how committees go.
You discuss certain thoughts and ideas and then when you have disagreements, you arrive at consensus.
So it’s not always that any particular idea that is brought to the table is in fact accepted and agreed.
So sometimes we spend long hours deliberating a particular idea.
And this is, in fact, what happened at the last meeting.
We spent quite a long time deliberating some suggestions before eventually they were just taken off the table, so to speak.
But that is as far as we’ve reached in terms of our progress so far.

H. Sergeant: You mentioned that the progress has been slow, deliberately slow I would like to think. What is the benefit of that?

C. Browne: Again, from my perspective, a Constitution is the most important document in the governance of a country.
It determines everything else that happens in your country so therefore, again from my perspective, I would want to believe that we would want to have the best possible Constitution we could put together under the present situation that we exist.
And in order to do that, we need to pursue all the avenues available to us.
We are in a peculiar situation here and we can’t forget that we are, in fact, administered by Her Majesty’s Government, Great Britain so the proper term that I generally use (which is now becoming not used) is colony.
We are still a colony. We are administered by Britain. Britain is our administering power so as such, we are not exactly writing for our own selves, a Constitution.
We are, in effect, writing or attempting to write a Constitution that renegotiates our position with our administering power.
As such, we need to be absolutely clear on what we would like renegotiated, where we would like to go, the direction that we want to go in.
And then again, we need to understand Her Majesty’s Government’s position on that renegotiation, where they want to go, what they would like to see happen.
So it is not as if we were writing something for ourselves, by ourselves.
We are attempting to put together something where we have an administering power that does not necessarily agree with some of the things that we would like to see happen.
The hopes and aspirations, the visions of our people are not necessarily in accordance with the direction or the agenda of Her Majesty’s Government.
Therefore, we have to be very thoughtful and we have to look at all of these different approaches.

H. Sergeant: Enlarging the Committee—I think currently you have four members?

C. Browne: Yes, we have four but initially, we did have five so we were just trying to bring it back to its original number.

H. Sergeant: Okay. And with the addition now of the constitutional lawyer, do you think a case would have to be made to the British government in light of the fact that that would involve some cost?

C. Browne: Yes. That was the suggestion in Council. It is not a reality yet. It was a suggestion that the Committee brought to Council that Council actually did not respond to but the reality is that if it is to happen, the British government would, in fact, have to provide us with that counsel.
The British government has in fact already set a precedent because at least two of the other colonies that are in the same process as we are have, in fact, requested constitutional advice from a constitutional lawyer and to date, at least one of those colonies has in fact received a constitutional lawyer to advise them.
So it is not that we are asking for something that the British government has not already set a precedent for.
It is just that we have to go through the formality of asking for it.

H. Sergeant: We are speaking to Mr. Chedmond Browne, Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution. Mr. Browne, the issues concerning our Constitution are wide and varied. Has the Committee started to focus in yet on any particular issues at this point in time?

C. Browne: We have to remember that this process is not a new process. We had the draft Constitutional Commission that preceded us and the draft Constitutional Commission, in fact, issued a report.
That report was brought to Council. Out of that report coming to Council, Council decided that it would, in fact, put together a Select Committee to embellish or to flesh out or to add to that draft Constitutional Report to make it more complete.
What Council decided in the end was that the draft Constitutional Report was in fact the initial beginning stage of a continuing process.
The Select Committee is the next stage of that process.
So it’s not that we have not looked at things, it’s that things have already been looked at.
We are in the process of continuing to look at, continuing to define, continuing to establish and—based on programs like these—continuing to educate and inform the listening public.
So in terms of that, yes progress is being made and a lot of issues have been looked at.

H. Sergeant: Taking up the point of educating the people, one point of view is that Montserrat’s national status or Montserratians’ status, as it stands now, are not really determined.
Would that be included in a Constitution?

C. Browne: Well, it would have to be because as I stated before, Montserrat is a colony. Montserrat is administered by Britain. The UN Mandate on Decolonization has established the fact that the administering power is obligated to assist the colony in its progressive move out of colonialism. Sometimes, I have to speak for myself as opposed to speaking for the Committee. One of the positions I had taken initially is that if you are renegotiating a Constitution with your administering power, it is clear that you must establish, within that Constitution, that you are, in fact, a colony seeking constitutional and political advancement out of colonialism into a next phase of your development. So, to me, it is absolutely clear that this must be an integral part of anything that we are doing. And in fact, the draft Constitution Report from the Constitutional Commission did mention the right to self-determination in some form or fashion. So definitely, self-determination must be an integral part of anything that is put together.

H. Sergeant: You may wish to answer this question from a personal point of view and not necessarily from the Committee’s point of view. The future status of Montserrat, right to self-determination—that can take several forms. Free Association has been bandied about for some time. Full independence is another one. What is your take on that?

C. Browne: There are three stages. There are three conditions for self-determination.
One is maintenance of the status quo, status quo being exactly where we are now with a governor being in charge of our country.
Free Association is a middle step that allows full internal control of the country through the elected officials.
And independence is the ultimate step.
Now, all the colonies have asked to revisit the free association status.
The British government is balking at that free association status.
It is not happy with that request but the free association status would be the middle step between the maintenance of the status quo and ultimate independence and it would be a clear indicator that the colony is in fact moving out of the colonial state into a more developed and progressive state.
So free association has been promoted, free association has been mentioned and as I’ve stated before the British government, so far, has not been happy with entertaining the idea.

H. Sergeant: Because it is saying, I understand, that the colonies cannot have their cake and eat it too. They cannot want these increased powers but want to remain under the protective wing of the British government.

C. Browne: Yes. They have taken that position but it is not a correct position.
Under the mandate that they signed for the UN Mandate on Decolonisation, they have agreed to assist and develop the hopes and aspirations of the people that they administer.
Now, if our present condition demands free association in a progressive step forward, it is our hopes and aspirations not their hopes and aspirations to keep us and the status quo the same.
They have agreed to based on the UN Mandate on Decolonisation so therefore, if the people demand that free association be the next progressive step along the line, in the international arena, the British government would be forced to accept and agree to this condition.
What is happening is that nothing here is happening in the international arena.
What is happening is strictly between the colony and Her Majesty’s Government.
Therefore, it is an internal discussion and negotiation.
We have yet to take the struggle into the international arena.
On rare occasions, once a year, we get to go to the United Nations to the Committee on Decolonisation.
But even that is very well policed.
I went once. I haven’t been able to go again.
I requested again, in the last sitting of Parliament, to go (it will be next month). I didn’t get a response from Parliament but the reality is that unless those who represent us at those Decolonisation Committee meetings are clear in the direction we want to go, you get little or no documented position taken—even at that high level.

H. Sergeant: Do you think that the new Constitution, when it is ready—do you think that we should have a referendum on it before it is fully implemented?

C. Browne: A referendum on the Constitution—I don’t think there’s an absolute necessity for a referendum even though I’m not against a referendum.
What I think is that if the process is done properly, each idea that we are promoting should, in fact, be exposed to the general public.
The general public should be given an opportunity to respond, to give feedback, which is the same process that was taken when the draft Constitutional [Report] was done.
It is just that certain areas, in my opinion, were not given enough exposure.
So what should be done is that anything new that is introduced should be given the same degree of exposure as was given when the original draft Constitutional Report was written.
But if the powers to be, at the end of day—being the British government and the present government of the day at that point in time—determine that a referendum is necessary, then yes, let’s have a referendum.
I can’t see anybody voting against their own progress so I personally don’t have a problem with it.

H. Sergeant: Plus the process will fully involve the people anyway.

C. Browne: And become more transparent.

H. Sergeant: One of the things I know will be looked at, is being looked at is the powers of the governor. A lot of people have problems with that. The question has been raised over and over again. Do you see the time, anytime soon, when we’ll have an Executive made up of all elected officials and the governor’s role reduced merely to that of a ceremonial position?

C. Browne: Well that again is one of our major problems.
Having told the international world through their “White Paper” in 1999—I am speaking of the British government now who issued a white paper in 1999—having told the international world that they would, in fact, entertain constitutional reform from their remaining colonies.
At the external level, they have allowed the world to understand that they are, in fact, negotiating with their remaining colonies to reform their constitutions.
At the internal level, they have shown some unusual resistance to those areas of the constitution that do in fact need that absolute type of reform by insisting that certain areas are just not open for negotiation.
One of their clear positions right now is that the powers of the governor are not open for negotiation but, still, in fact, they are pushing this word reform.
Now, I would just like to clarify the word for you.
I went to the dictionary.
Reform says to make or become better by the removal of faults or errors.
Reform says the abolishment of abuse.
Reform says the cure of a malpractice.
Reform says correcting a legal document.
All of those definitions of reform imply improvement, imply advancement but the British government, so far, at the discussion level continues to place resistance to the ideas of change that have any effect on the governor’s powers.
Now we need to step beyond what the British are saying and what the British are doing and look at the mandate on the Declaration of Human Rights.
Now, the Human Rights Declaration, which was signed again by free countries in the world, including Her Majesty’s Government, the British government states clearly that it is the right of any people to be governed by those they elect.
It is one of the clear clauses in the Declaration on Human Rights.
It is the right of any people to be governed by those who they elect so we are not asking for anything that is not properly and rightfully due us.
It is just again, a matter of having the political will at your elected level and the educational understanding at the mass level that this is our right.
Once it’s your right and you demand it, it must be granted to you.
There’s a statement that goes like this: It says, power concedes nothing without demand.
It might be your right, yes but unless you place yourself in a position to utilize and exercise that right, it will just be a right on paper.
But it is our right to deal with the powers of the governor.

The governor is not an elected official but the governor wields almost total, absolute constitutional authority over us in this country.
The thing that irks me at times is that our elected officials do not magnify that point enough and in fact, we go overboard not to magnify it.
I was appalled that a lot of the stuff that was said with the departure of the governor the other day.
I made it clear that I would not attend because this is how I show my disaffection with what is going on.
Those things clearly don’t indicate that the governor has too much authority when in fact, at other times you hear this obvious contradiction that he does.
But the reality is constitutionally, de facto law clearly places him in almost absolute authority over how our country is governed.

H. Sergeant: It’s as if he has a veto power in our Executive; nothing goes through without his approval.

C. Browne: Right. He must sign anything that becomes law.
But beyond that, he controls the administration of this country.
He controls the police. He controls the civil service. And he is not elected.
So we have a clear contradiction there that we have to rectify.
Now it is up to us to develop the political will and the mass educational understanding that there are certain rights that are due any people anywhere in the world no matter what there condition and we are going to step up and demand those rights and take them and utilize them in our best interests.

H. Sergeant: Now, talking about un-elected officials wielding power, let us look at the un-elected officials sitting in the House of Parliament.
They too have considerable power to pass or not to pass laws.
Now some people have a serious problem with that.
And I am talking about the Financial Secretary sitting in Parliament and voting on legislation; also the Attorney General.

C. Browne: The ex-officio members are again a throwback from the colonial era.
The Financial Secretary was at one point in time an Englishman as was the Attorney General and therefore, by placing them in Council with executive powers, you were in fact placing the British government in Council with executive powers.
That’s the reality and that’s what they are; they are a throwback, they are a leftover from those colonial days.
We have to recognize that we are still a colony and if the governor is in charge of the civil service, the governor is, in fact, in charge of both the Attorney General and the Financial Secretary.
So they are still, in fact, in office to exercise the whims, the wishes of the British government more so than the government of the day.
But, they have a de jure or tradition that says that the ex-officio members must, in fact, and should, in fact, vote and go along with the government of the day.
So what you have is that the government comes always to Legislative Council, not only with a majority of its own through its elected officials but with two extra votes in its pocket, in terms of the ex-officio members, and this is what we have right now in our country today.
We have, again, not only a non-elected governor who has constitutional authority over us, we have two non-elected administrative members, one of the civil service, one of the justice department, who also wield huge executive powers because they sit in Executive Council.
They have more power and authority than any member of the opposition and as much power and authority as any executive member of government.
So these are the huge contradictions that exist within our form of government which basically springs from the root cause of the fact that we are still a colony and we are still, in fact, being governed by old, archaic, colonial systems where you have huge degrees of control by the administering power where they have any avenue that they can utilize to ensure that they in fact have hands-on control of the day-to-day affairs of the country, even though they are not physically present.

H. Sergeant: I know that there are many, many important issues that the Committee will have to address but surely this must be one of them that you will look at.

C. Browne: Well, this is one of the few things that I actually agreed with in the draft Constitutional Report.
It is clearly stipulated there. The entire public at large, in fact, recognized this so this is one of the very clear, clear suggestions in the draft Constitution Report that actually made a lot of sense to me.
While they can remain as advisors to government and while they can, in fact, remain in Executive Council as advisors, they should not have voting power in the Legislative Council.
I’m quite sure that is one of those suggestions that we will, in fact, get or receive when this process of negotiation actually begins.

H. Sergeant: And staying in Parliament, one of the reforms that may have to take place as far as the operation there is concerned is that there are certain legislation, for want of a better word, that are passed without full Parliament being able to debate it or to possibly even see the details and I am talking about the SR and O's.
They may not be full laws but they are measures passed by government and rarely does the opposition get a chance to look at them or to examine them before they passed through Parliament.

C. Browne: They are, in fact, laws. They are laws and they are passed by Executive Council and the loophole is used that the Legislative Council does in fact pass them because they are laid on the table.
So once they are laid on the table in the House, the implication is that the House, in fact, agreed and that is the loophole.
This is where you will hear the trick all the time that the Legislative Council is superior to the Executive Council and therefore can vet and control the Executive Council when, in fact, it is actually reversed.
Executive Council, well the whole administration of government is passed through Executive Council Orders and all Executive Council Orders, at some point in time, are laid on the table in the Legislative Council.
The Legislative Council cannot debate those Executive Council Orders and Legislative Council is not even aware of the dynamics that created the Executive Council Order.
So what you find happening is that an Executive Council Order—and it doesn’t necessarily have to come to the House at the time that it is issued—they have up to, I think, maybe 60 even as much as up to 90 days timeframe between issuing an Executive Council Order and laying it on the table in the House.
Now, that Order or to correct that, that would have to be corrected, I think, in the Standing Rules and Orders that govern how the House is governed, not necessarily in the Constitution itself unless we change the whole establishment between the Legislative and the Executive Councils. But I think it can, if fact, be corrected in the Standing Rules and Orders that govern how the Speaker of the House and how the House itself is ruled and governed.

H. Sergeant: Well, we are wrapping up our interview with Mr. Chedmond Browne. He is the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution and we will have lots more interviews with him as we plan to do this as regularly as possible as part of the education process as we get our new Constitution in order. Mr. Browne, before you leave us I just would like for you to remark on something that happened just last week—that the governor, in fact, donated his uniform to the National Trust. He has left it here. He has not taken it with him because future governors will not be wearing this uniform in the future and the Chief Minister was quite happy with that because he said, that uniform represented colonial domination.

C. Browne: Well, you know, it’s form without substance. Taking off the uniform means nothing, at least not to me.
We could have it yes to put in our museum and all of that for our own colonial history but taking off the uniform—again, these are the kind of tricks we fall for.
You take off the uniform; it doesn’t mean a thing because no matter what they wear, they have the constitutional authority to govern us.
It is colonialism. It is an aspect of colonialism but it is a piece of that colonialism that even if you remove, it doesn’t mean a thing to us.
We need to get to the root of our problem. The root of our problem is the authority.
If he could take off the uniform, let him take off some of the authority the he has too.
Give us back some of that authority. Then we could start to celebrate and say certain good things.
I don’t mind seeing it in our museum.

H. Sergeant: Thank you very much, Mr. Browne, Chedmond Browne, Chairman of the Select Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution.


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