Reuben T. Meade becomes Montserrat’s First Premier
The Hon. Reuben T. Meade was sworn in on Tuesday as the first Premier of Montserrat which also signalled the island’s adoption of a new constitution, which he acknowledged was not a perfect document.
“We must continue the work of improving the document over time. We must howe
ver, not lose sight of the focus on development issues while at the same time honouring the provisions of the constitution,” Meade told those gathered for the short ceremony at the Cultural Centre.
His Excellency the Governor, Adrian Davis, who officiated at the ceremony, said he was pleased that this new constitution was coming into effort this early in his appointment and that it was a “modern constitution for a modern country.” He added that the UK government was not considering any amendments at this time to the document which new Opposition Leader Hon. Donaldson Romeo and Opposition Member Hon. Lowell Lewis have challenged and declared less than adequate for Montserrat.
The new premier mapped the course which was taken to bring the constitution approved by the legislature almost one year ago into force today. “Many long hours of consultations took place between the local team over the years and the UK team as the negotiations moved back and forth until we agreed on the document which we now have as our Constitution of 2011.”
Meade has maintained that the public has been given multiple opportunities to participate at each stage of the process, which began in earnest in 2001 with the creation of a special commission to review the 1989 Constitution and recommend changes.
“All of that work and time enabled us to agree a document which was ready for debate in our local legislative council. It was not a requirement, but I felt it necessary for us to first have it debated and approved by our Legislative Council to signal acceptance and ownership of the document. It was approved by a margin of 7-2 by the elected members.”
“It is the first time in the entire process of governance in Montserrat that the people truly took part in the development of their constitution. It took nine years for us to reach this stage. It is not a perfect document but it is workable with provisions for future amendments.
“However, we must give it some time to work before we seek to change it. We must now concentrate our focus on economic issues of growth and development for the people whom we represent.”
The Hon. Donaldson Romeo will be the first Leader of the Opposition with much more responsibilities in the functioning of government. The Opposition Leader will be the head of the Public Accounts Committee, share in the selection of the Public Service Commission and the Electoral Commission, and be a member of the National Advisory Council among other authority now vested legally in the person holding that post.
The functions of the governor will also be changed as a result of the new constitution. Premier Meade explained that as of today the governor is “mandated to consult with the Premier on many matters to include the appointment of Senior Public Servants to include the Deputy Governor, the Financial Secretary and the Commissioner of Police. He is obliged to consult the Chief Justice on the appointment of the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Magistrates and other offices requiring legal qualifications.
“A Mercy Committee is to be established to reduce the discretionary powers of the governor in clemency matters. Regional Affairs to include OECS and CARICOM will now be vested in the Premier or his nominee.
“The Governor is also required to discuss the operations of the areas falling under his remit. A subtle but important provision is for the Ministers to obtain the approval of the Premier, rather than the Governor, for all absences from the island,” he stated.
Although several new commissions are to be created as part of the fundamental rights and privileges laid out in the new constitution, most will not be fully functional immediately. Until staffing has been announced, persons can lodge complaints and concerns to the Complaints Commission by contacting the Clerk of Councils in the Legislative Department.
“I promise to continue in the service of the people in working with the team to bring about the necessary reforms to facilitate the generation of sustainable growth and development,” the new premier said in closing. “With rights come responsibility, so let us be responsible in supporting the provisions of the constitution.”