I stand here today with immense pride in my heart, as we as a people give recognition to 70 years of Parliamentary Democracy on Montserrat.
This celebration of 70 years of Parliamentary Democracy is quite a noble achievement for a developing island nation such as ours.
Great men and women of vision and fortitude, stepped up to the plate many years ago. Not only did they fight to achieve a change in their circumstance at that time in our history, but I am confident in saying here today, that their eyes were also fixed on the future and pushing forward towards the realisation of their ultimate goals and aspirations for Montserrat - politically, socially and economically.
Today, as we stand in observance of these 70 years of Parliamentary Democracy, allow me to indulge you as to the foundations that were laid, so that we as a people can be able to have such a commendable celebration today.
Let us for a moment look at the democratic foundations of Montserrat. It is known that our island is a British Overseas Territory. The Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the 2nd.
Despite the allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, Montserrat is still mainly governed by a self -governing system of Representative Parliamentary Democracy, rooted in the Westminster model from the United Kingdom.
Many of our people, over the years, would have heard renowned historian Sir Dr Howard Fergus, and also the recently departed Dr George Irish, along with many of the island’s notable political figures, speak about Universal Suffrage on Montserrat.
Universal Suffrage, which is widely regarded as “The right to vote” in Montserrat’s context was only granted to the island in 1951.
It must be noted that prior to this, Montserrat was governed by what was known then as a Plantocracy system.
Records show that early elections on Montserrat date back to the 19th century. However, these elections were very limited, as only partial members of the community were able to vote.
True Representative Government on Montserrat did not really begin until the February 20th, 1952 elections, when all members of the Montserrat community of legal voting age and requirement were allowed that right to exercise their franchise.
It was our island’s first elected Chief Minister, William H. Bramble, who led the charge that saw to voting rights being granted to all citizens of the island. Bramble, in seeking to bring Representative Democracy to Montserrat, worked with names such as R.W Griffith, M E. Walkinshaw, E T. Edgecombe, and B W. Edwards.
These valiant men and women who can be considered, for all intents and purposes, the Fathers of our Democracy - fought for, and won the battle for full Representative Democracy on Montserrat. “A type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people.”
Today, whilst we champion the achievement of 70 years of Parliamentary Democracy, can we honestly reflect and say that these great men and women who stood up and fought for our right to vote, and to be Represented by our own people in our very own Legislative Assembly – can we say that they would be fully proud of where we are today?
A fundamental requirement of our Representative Parliamentary Democracy is the provision for transparent governance systems and an accountable government.
A key element that helps our system to function well is the ability of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to be afforded the latitude to pose questions on behalf of the people to the government of the day.
It is further expected that the government of the day, be both enterprising and accommodating in answering these questions, so as to give a full account to the people of their stewardship over the affairs of Montserrat.
The affairs of Montserrat belong to The People.
It is the people who have afforded each and everyone of us sitting here today as Parliamentarians, the privilege of being able to serve. Thus, it does not matter whichever Administration is in Office - they must submit themselves openly to receive questions - whether they find these questions favourable or not. No one should be allowed to stifle transparency, accountability, and effective Representation - either from within or outside of the Assembly.
This is what our forefathers battled for. They fought so that the framework for democratic governance on Montserrat is illustrated in the format where our island’s Legislative power is undertaken by both the elected Administration of the day, BUT also by the wider Legislative body of Parliament to include all of the Representatives of the people that make up Parliament.
Both W.H Bramble and R W Bob Griffith, and others who stood with them during that pivotal moment in our history, began the process of building a more democratic island nation. We must ensure that what they stood for is never forgotten, and that us as Parliamentarians do not become consumed with our own imaginings of grandeur and power.
Many changes have come over these past 70 years that have impacted how Parliamentary Representation is conducted on Montserrat. One of the most significant changes took place in 2001, when due to the mass migration of our people caused by the Soufriere Hills Volcano, a new electoral system was introduced with a single nine-member constituency that gave voters the power to select their chosen nine candidates on the ballot paper.
Further changes were to come as Constitutional reform saw the Montserrat Constitution Order 2010 being adapted into law, and in 2011 the Legislative Council, as it was formerly known was discarded and replaced by what we now have today as the Montserrat Legislative Assembly.
Dare I say, that as we celebrate these past 70 years, it is also our duty as Parliamentarians to consider now what shape the future of our Democracy will take.
What further conversations towards reforming our Democracy should we as a people now begin to engage in. For many years, we have seen our development drive stagnated as elected Representative after elected Representative become frustrated by the slow pace of development and change.
I am making my submission here today, in this 70th year of Parliamentary Democracy on Montserrat, that it is time for us to re-examine and seek to restructure the nature of our relationship with our Mother Country – The United Kingdom.
Our common goals of development and progress for Montserrat must be better aligned than what we presently have in place. This will require reform. It will require Parliamentary restructuring even. But if the ultimate goal of advancing Montserrat’s development ambitions is better served, then re-defining our relationship with the UK is the most important conversation we must seek to have going forward.
On this note, I conclude my presentation to you today, just as I began - with pride in my heart that Parliamentary Democracy on Montserrat has achieved such a momentous milestone.
I am also enthusiastic about the scope for progress and further development of our Democracy that lies ahead.
The work to advance this nation and our Democracy has to be done collectively – by all of us working together to advance the cause of Montserrat towards a better and more wholesome nation.
I Thank You