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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, April 18, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesFYI: Sen. Hill Favors Constitutional Convention's Postponement

FYI: Sen. Hill Favors Constitutional Convention's Postponement

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Dec. 20, 2005 – During the Dec. 16 Legislative Session, I submitted an amendment to postpone the establishment of the 5th Constitutional Convention from 2006 to 2007 and to appropriate $100,000 to the University of the Virgin Islands to conduct a non-partisan educational campaign.
I voted for Bill No 25-0016, now Act 6688, in the 25th Legislature because I believed then, as I do now, that the adoption of a constitution is an important and necessary step to take in our continuing social evolution and political maturation. The sponsors of this initiative should be commended for the leadership they demonstrated in making sure that this fundamental component of our political structure is placed back on the agenda for a new generation of voters and leaders to consider.
In retrospect, however, I believe the time table set forth for the establishment of the 5th Constitutional Convention and for the submittal of a draft constitution is far too aggressive and does not allow for the level of public education, participation and deliberation deserving of such an immense and vital undertaking.
The current law requires the Convention to convene on March 28, 2005, after delegates are elected on February 14, 2005. The Convention delegates then have until July 27, 2005, four months, to organize; elect officers; adopt rules of procedures; select and hire staff; and prepare and agree upon a draft constitution that is consistent with the provisions of the Revised Organic Act which do not relate to local government and that includes a bill of rights, a republican form of government, a system of courts consistent with the 1954 Revised Organic Act, a procedure for amending the constitution, and an effective date for the constitution.
The above list of tasks and duties are a tall order to accomplish within four months and the author's of the law recognized that. In Section 1, subsection (c) it states the following:
"To avoid lengthy public hearings, [sic] discussions, additional fees and other expenses, the Convention shall review and adopt provisions of the Constitution of the Virgin Islands, previously approved by the Fourth Constitutional Convention which are considered by the Convention to be standard and of a non-controversial nature."
The above section of the law limits the scope of issues the Convention can consider, it restricts public participation, and it extends the life of the 4th Constitutional Convention. The 4th Convention produced a document that could possibly serve most of our needs, but it has been some twenty-five years since the 4th Constitutional Convention convened in 1980 and submitted a draft document to this community. We all can agree that conditions in the Virgin Islands, the nation, the region, and the world are not what they were twenty-five years ago. There are current voters who were not born or who were not residents and members of this community twenty-five years ago. We should not seek to accelerate this process unless we are confidant that all, that can be done and should be done, has been done to properly engage, involve, and include all Virgin Islanders.
We must take the time to properly educate and inform the public about what a constitution means to a society's development and the various milestones that have occurred in the Virgin Islands pursuit for greater self governance and the many Virgin Islands patriots associated with that struggle. To do less belittles the importance of this process and dishonors the laudable efforts of all who participated in earlier initiatives.
Public education of constitutional issues should not be left to the candidates vying to be delegates to the Convention. A candidate need only be a US citizen, a qualified VI voter, and a VI resident for three years in order to qualify. A candidate does not have to have read the 1954 Revised Organic Act or to know who Rothschild Francis or Casper Holstein were in order to qualify. Public education should be coordinated and led by the University of the Virgin Islands or some other credible non-partisan and un-biased institution that can assemble local scholars and knowledgeable citizens to provide informed and fact based perspectives on constitutional issues and the qualities the public should look for in delegates to the Convention. The Convention is serious business and the process should be more than a popularity contest.
The 5th Convention could possibly deliver a legally sufficient draft constitution based on the 4th Convention's draft, but is that good enough? We have many controversial constitutional issues currently on the public agenda. They include proposals to separate our islands, to authorize various forms of local government, to change the Legislature's structure and influence, to institute electoral reform and a host of other issues. It is politically expedient to avoid an honest public debate of these issues, but is it the right thing to do at this stage in our political development?
I do not believe that the community is engaged enough in the process of developing and adopting a new Constitution, and I am not confident that the current 4 month timeline for the 5th Constitutional Convention to convene and submit a draft document is sufficient time to effectively engage and develop consensus within our community. If we do not take the time to properly engage the community at the front end of this process, I fear the community will not fully support the referendum initiative to adopt the constitution and we will have another Convention that stalls at the end of the process.
I have moved to take the Convention process outside the distracting atmosphere of the 2006 gubernatorial election campaign season to allow the Convention to receive the complete and thorough examination and review that the challenges facing our current stability and our future development require. Some feel that postponing the Convention is a mistake and that the public will not engage no matter how much public education occurs. I have great faith in the people of the Virgin Islands to understand and to fully participate in any process once they are provided with clear and unbiased information and allowed the time to digest it.
The development and adoption of our constitution should be held to a higher standard than any election for governor, senator, delegate to Congress and any board or commission. A constitution establishes who owns a society's human and natural resources; it establishes who has the power to decide how those resources are spent, distributed, and invested and for how long they may have that privilege; it establishes if and how the power to control society's resources can be transferred; and it establishes the rules for how power can be managed and how those rules can be changed.
This is an important process that must include and engage all Virgin Islanders and not just an elite few. History has taught us what will happen if we do not take the time to engage and educate the people in a manner in which they deserve. Adopting a constitution is an important and vital step we must take to advance our political development; but we should never allow fear, cynicism, frustration, or apathy from ever preventing us from doing what is right and what is prudent.

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