Major Events in our Constitutional Development – Part 5
The John Government convened Parliament to pass legislation banning the right of Trade Unions to embark on strike action. The D.F.P led a protest against the intended measure during the course of which a young protestor, Phillip Timothy, was killed by gunfire from the Defence Force. Three weeks of island-wide civil disobedience co-ordinated by a Committee for National Salvation (C.M.S) followed; Chairperson of the committee was the General Secretary of the Civil Service Association (C.S.A), Charles Savarin. In support of the protest, the Police withdrew to their barracks. Unionized workers abandoned the ports, causing ships and aircraft to bypass the island. Banana growers abandoned their fields and, as a result, shipments ground to a halt. The Civil Service was reduced to a skeleton. Business places shut their doors. Schools closed. The Christian Council provided financial assistance to dislocated farmers. Government ceased to function.
-The island's President, Fred Degazon, fled to the United Kingdom and abandoned his office.
-A former colonial Governor, Louis Cools-Lartigue, a Dominican was appointed to act in the office but instantaneously resigned the position in face of destruction of his and his family's property by protestors referred to as the "Roseau Stone Brigade".
The Government collapsed, as its leader lost his support in Parliament. Then, following the swearing in of "Acting President", Jenner Armour, an interim Government led by John's Foreign Minister, Oliver Seraphin, was put in place; Seraphin's supporters in an out of Parliament called themselves the Democratic Labour Party (DEMLAB). The overthrow of the Patrick John regime was done by co-operation and negotiation between the Committee for National Salvation (C.N.S) and those members of Parliament who did not support Prime Minister John, rather than strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. For this reason it has been referred to as a "palace coup".
-To influence the course of the protest, the People's Democratic Party (P.D.P), Popular Independence Committee (P.I.C), Working People's Vanguard (W.P.V), and a small group calling itself the Dominica Democratic Alliance (D.D.A), led by Portsmouth parliamentarian, Mike Douglas, formed a political alliance, called the Dominica Liberation Movement Alliance (D.L.M.A).
-With elections around the corner, D.D.A and P.I.C withdrew from D.L.M.A, and threw their support behind the ruling party, DEMLAB. Following this, P.D.P and W.P.V joined forces in a unitary organisation named Dominica Liberation Movement (D.L.M). Atherton Martin, President of a revived island-wide Dominica Farmers Union (D.F.U), was selected to lead the party into the elections.
-The Dominica Freedom Party (D.F.P) won 17 of the 21 constituencies. Two (2) independent candidates aligned to the D.F.P also won their seats. The Democratic Labour Party (DEMLAB) also won seats.
-The 99-man Defence Force established by the Patrick John Regime was disbanded.
The Dominica Freedom Party (D.F.P) Administration appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of A.J.N Matthew, Attorney-at-Law, to review the Constitution and recommend changes. The Commission reported in August 1983. The D.F.P remained in power for 12 further years, but failed to take any action on the recommendations.
-Former officers and members of the disbanded Defence Force stormed the Police Headquarters in Roseau but failed to capture the armoury. A policeman was killed.
-On the 18th June the Treaty of Basseterre established the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (O.E.C.S), including Dominica. In July 1973 the Treaty of Chaguaramas had established the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
-The Treaty of Basseterre went into force.
-The United Workers Party (U.W.P) was formed with Edison James as Political Leader.
-The U.W.P constituted the parliamentary opposition.
The U.W.P won 11 of the 21 constituencies and formed the Government.
The U.W.P administration, instead of acting on the1981 Constitutional Review recommendations, appointed another Commission to once again review the Constitution and recommend changes. The Commission was under the Chairmanship of renowned Dominican jurist, the Right Honourable Justice Phillip Telford Georges. It reported in February 1999.
A post-election coalition between the D.L.P and the D.F.P brought the D.L.P to power under the leadership of former P.I.C leader, Rosie Douglas. On his unexpected passing 9 months later, Pierre Charles, former leader of the Grandbay Work and Study Committee, became Prime Minister.
The 1981 and 1997 Constitutional Review Commissions had recommended the passage of legislation to compel integrity in public office. An Integrity in Public Office Act was passed in 2003 but was not put into effect until 2008.
Upon the untimely passing of Pierre Charles, Roosevelt Skerrit took over the reins of government and of the D.L.P.
Our Constitution was amended for the first time in its 36 years of existence. Section 106 was amended to replace Her Majesty's Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (C.C.J), as the island's final court of appeal.
- Section 108 of our Constitution provides for a Parliamentary Commissioner (popularly called Ombudsman) to investigate complaints of matters believed to constitute injustice on the part of individuals or bodies in the service of Government, including Cabinet Ministers and departments of Government.
-Of the eleven (11) Administrations that have held office since independence, none has seen fit to act on Section 108 and appoint an Ombudsman.
-The aspirations of the people, as expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution, have been largely betrayed. Our nation has long fallen into a state of economic, political and social decay. And morality has evaporated. To say the least, what is required in the circumstances of the present is leadership at all levels of the very highest order.
(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Historian & Attorney-at-Law)
Copyright © William Para Riviere, October 2014