Antigua and Barbuda Constitutional Reform – The Opening Chapter

Originally published in The Spectator -The Patriots Edition, a fitting piece which is remains relevant given the recent swearing of the the new Cabinet and Members of Parliament post the recent general elections.

On July 31, 1981, The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty’s Court at Buckingham Palace gave leave for the establishment of a new constitution for Antigua and Barbuda paving the way for the birth of an Independent Nation.  That constitution came into force on October 31, 1981, and Antigua and Barbuda became fully responsible for all its affairs, while retaining the ceremonial ties to British monarchy as the Head of State.

For the past forty-one (41) years, that constitution gifted by the British has been the beacon guiding   the Nation’s democracy. This status continues even though there have been several occasions of national dialogue in respect to constitutional reform.  At the core, the twin-island nation continued to shape its destiny within a constitutional frame without any effective dialogue to make citizens and residents aware of the nation’s Constitutional provisions or actions to move beyond the mother country’s gifted legacy.

Into the knowledge breach came Antiguans and Barbudans for Constitutional Reform and Education, Inc. (ABCRE), a New York-based non-partisan, registered not-for-profit organization made up of citizens of Antigua and Barbuda who, though they reside and work in the United States, have remained in touch with the political and socio-economic realities of their country of birth.   Through the organisation’s public awareness sessions utilizing various platforms since 2018 they have sort to increase knowledge and awareness of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda with the objective of ‘fostering enlightenment and education through the study of the Antigua & Barbuda constitution.  The primary output – to exert pressure on to reform the the constitution. 

In furtherance of their mission ABCRE identified the Oath of Allegiance as the first to be addressed.  The Oath is contained in Schedule 3 of our Constitution, and must be administered to the Governor-General, Members of Parliament, The Prime Minister, each Minister, The Ombudsman, Parliamentary Secretaries, and members of the Public Service Commission, before they take office.  It is also administered to every individual who is granted citizenship under Sec. 114 of the Constitution as the first clause for amendment.  The oath states: “I __________, do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors, according to the law, So help me God (to be omitted in affirmation).”

ABCRE contend that after 41 years there is need to fix the oath and have the people’s representatives in parliament, public officers, and newly naturalised citizens t pledge allegiance to Antigua and Barbuda, its Constitution and its People, rather than to the British monarchy.  

In an historic five (5) minutes on October 24, 2022, Member of Parliament for Barbuda, Hon Trevor Walker was granted the opportunity by the Speaker of the House Sir Gerald Watt under Standing Order 56.3 to request leave to table ABCRE’s Private Members bill titled the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Amendment Bill 2022. MP Walker explains why he got involved and became the standard bearer for ABCRE’s mission tagged ‘Fix The Oath’ thus: – ‘I actually listened a program on a Monday night by ABCRE concerning this very issue – and it dawned on me that a amendment to our constitution needed to be done soonest.   So, I engaged them to get a feel on what they were proposing.  Having done that, I contacted the Clerk of Parliament right away to let her know of my intention to introduce a private members bill in the house.  Then I followed the procedures laid out in standing order 55 and 56 of the parliament to start the ball rolling.

Antigua and Barbuda celebrated 41 year of independence and the time has come in my view for the oath of allegiance to be to our people who elected us, those we serve, and to our constitution which is our supreme law.  The British monarchy has no direct implications on the functioning of our democracy so it’s important that our democracy especially leaders understand where their loyalty lies.

The Parliamentary Representative for Barbuda, Hon Trevor Walker presentation earned the support of his colleagues in the Lower House of Parliament and the historic members bill earned its first reading and awaits the moment when it is placed before the House for its second the third reading, then debate.  There are no compelling reasons to expect that this bill will not receive the assent of our parliamentary representatives who since November 1, 1981 serve the people of Antigua and Barbuda exclusively. 

As we the people stand on the cusp of another election season, there is a sense of optimism that the current administration will ensure that their term would not end before passing this signal bill into law and ensuring that the incoming administration is under law to finally cast off the symbolism of dependency and stand ready, upon being elected by the majority of the people to serve in WORD via the Oath of Allegiance  and in action.

The time is now to remove one of the remain bastions of our colonial legacy, action is required now!

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