The successes accomplished so far within the OECS have made the larger CARICOM grouping look almost insignificant when it comes to similar efforts; though that would truly be an unfair statement when one carefully assesses the many successes of the Guyana based organization. However, sometimes it is the perception that hurts more, than the reality.
It is therefore difficult to criticize the OECS at times, but infrequently the member governments have given cause for reprimand. The latest of these is related to the announcement this week by the St. Kitts & Nevis Government that when parliamentarians head to the National Assembly today, Tuesday 6th December, 2011, “the lawmakers will be seeking approval from the body, for the twin-island Federation to opt out of Article 5.3 of the Revised Treaty, which seeks to give direct effect to legislation passed by the OECS Assembly, as a method of improving the monitoring, enforcement and harmonized implementation of decisions made by the Authority.”
A release from the St. Kitts & Nevis Government indicated that Article 5 of the Revised Treaty provides for a method by which member States could carry out the Treaty obligations under Article 14. The method proposed in Article 5.3 is for full Member States to delegate the power to make laws, related to the areas specified under Article 14, to the OECS. These OECS laws would have a direct effect in a Member State which could delegate that law making authority to the OECS.
The release continued, “However, under clause 3 of the Bill it is proposed that Article 5.3 should not, at this point in time, be given the force of law in Saint Christopher and Nevis. This proposal is consistent with the recommendation of the Legal Affairs Committee of theOECS that the mechanism for national implementation of Acts of the Organisation should accord with the legislative procedures set out in the respective Constitutions of Member States. In other words, the mechanism envisaged by Article 5.3 does not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution,” states explanatory notes to lawmakers which accompany the 57-page OECS (Revised Treaty of Basseterre Establishing the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Economic Union) Bill 2011.
Most nationals may not disagree with the government over this move; in fact the question that they may ask is why were we entering into such arrangement in the first case? Also, why were we entering such arrangement without a more widespread people-to-people consultation that would have clearly explained the consequences? Though a select group of persons were invited to a launch event at the Sir Cecil Jacobs Auditorium, at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, about two years ago, just before the last General Elections, that would not meet the requirements for national debate.
Another question that must be asked is what took the Legal Affairs Committee of the OECS this long to discover, “That the mechanism for national implementation of Acts of the Organisation should accord with the legislative procedures set out in the respective Constitutions of Member States.”
One has to ask if this should not have been pointed out before, rather than after the fact.
However, now that the St. Kitts & Nevis National Assembly will be moving today to opt out of this section of the Treaty, the time should be taken, in the near future, to sensitize nationals, not only here, but perhaps in all the other OECS States, about what it means to have such powers delegated to the OECS.
The OECS however has to be credited for the effort, seeking to arrive at a mechanism that would give smoother effect to the policies, programs and generally the agreements made when our Heads of Government meet. For too long, implementation has been a stumbling block. The OECS might be on to something, as a possible solution, but they just have to get their own implementation strategies for such legislation right.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sam Condor will introduce the legislation, which is to be piloted through all three stages at Tuesday’s National Assembly.
“Although our Constitution is silent on the issue of delegation of legislative power by Parliament, that is, neither allowing nor prohibiting the practice, the accepted practice which has developed in this area over the years is that Parliament must not abdicate its power to legislate and must retain some control over the legislative process. Additionally, the practice has been to delegate the power to enact subsidiary legislation but not primary legislation,” said a government release, explaining its actions.
It added that at best, the current method proposed for the enactment of OECS legislation under Article 5.3 is questionable.
“In other words, it would be prudent to proceed with caution because Parliament is not in the habit of delegating the enactment of Acts and this type of delegation must pass the hurdle of constitutional provisions such as that of section 42 of our Constitution,” it said.
According to section 42, “The power of Parliament to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the Governor General …When the Governor General assents to a bill that has been submitted to him in accordance with the provisions of [the] Constitution the bill shall become law and the Governor General shall thereupon cause it to be published in the Gazette as law … No law made by Parliament shall come into operation until it has been published in the Gazette…”.
“Apart from the prescribed procedures under section 42 there is no other provision under our Constitution for the mode of exercise of the legislative power. In that regard, the Bill proposes to implement the provisions of the Revised Treaty with the exception of Article 5.3 and our Parliament will retain the responsibility for ensuring all OECS legislation made in accordance with Article 14 will be passed into law in the Federation in a timely and efficient manner,” said the Explanatory notes to lawmakers.”
Full members of the OECS are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are Associate Members.