St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): A Caribbean Court of Justice jurist has advised that people should jealously guard the rule of law.

CCJ Judge, Vincentian Adrian Saunders made the point while delivering a lecture as part of the Good Governance Lecture series initiated by the Team Unity administration.

Justice Saunders explained there that Caribbean governments and parliaments have their role to play in promoting the rule of law, and have been doing so.

He pointed out however that the immense power wielded by some prime ministers in the region can create problems.

“One of the challenges to the rule of law in the Caribbean lies in the dangers associated with the over-centralization of power in the hands of some Prime Ministers. In fact in a book that Mr. Ferdinand referred to, a book on Caribbean Constitutional Law, recently published by Tracy Robinson, Arif Bulkan and myself, we drew attention to this feature. In fact we labeled the dominant system of governance in the english speaking Caribbean as being Prime Ministerial government, that is a system where the Prime Minister wields immense power as the head of government and typically controls the majority in the houses in parliament. Prime Ministerial government is evident where there is this concentration of executive and legislative power in one individual and invariably it leads to a culture of patronage and dependency.”

Justice Saunders said the problem was aggravated by a winner-take-all electoral system, where it is possible for a government to win a vast majority of the seats with just a little over fifty per cent of the total votes.

“In many countries we don’t have proportional representation, we have single member constituencies, first pass the poll systems and so it is possible for a government to win the vast majority of the seats with just a little over fifty percent of the total votes. So this is one of the problems that we have in the region that reflects itself as a challenge to the rule of law.”

Justice Saunders also identified another challenge related to political parties that become the government.

“Political parties that become the leadership, becomes the executive, becomes the government, there is no legislative framework for ensuring that these parties operate in a democratic manner and that is also a challenge to the rule of law because if these parties are run undemocratically then the results of that lack of democracy naturally becomes a matter of public concern as and when a party gets into office. So all of these measures are matters which we need to address, if the rule of law is to be enhanced.”

The noted Caribbean jurist emphasized that good governance legislation including integrity in public life legislation and freedom of information laws can help promote much required transparency and accountability.

The government has indicated that it is prioritizing those matters, but its critics argue that the administration is moving much too slowly with regard to implementing them.

 

Ken Richards
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