Doubts over effectiveness of proposed CNMI constitutional convention | Pacific Beat

Doubts over effectiveness of proposed CNMI constitutional convention

Doubts over effectiveness of proposed CNMI constitutional convention

Updated 13 September 2013, 11:42 AEST

The legislature of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariannas has given its support to holding a constitutional convention next year, when the commonwealth goes to elections.

But as Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney reports, there are question being raised by lawmakers there about how effective such a convention will actually be.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

OGUMORO: It's a requirement that every year, every ten years our law is very specific that there be a constitutional convention called no later than ten years after the last question was submitted, and the last question that was submitted was placed to a vote in 2005. So we are within that ten year period. We did have amendments along the way that were proposed, but not by a convention. What we're calling for right now is that there be a constitutional convention organised to look at those areas in our constitution that require amendments. I would prefer that a convention look at these amendments and give it a time that's needed to make sure that strong public education is conducted on the proposed amendments by the delegates.
COONEY: When it comes to the constitution, what sort of amendments are we talking about? What sort of areas are we talking about?
OGUMORO: I do not know what would be the amendments at this point and I don't have that listing in front of me, but I do know that the constitution is not made in stone, there are concerns that need to take up at this time. And I personally also feel that we should allow for that to happen.
COONEY: Your view and your support for a constitutional convention is based on it's the law of the land, it must happen and must give the people a voice. There's no particular amendment you want to see made to the constitution?
OGUMORO: Not at this time, as soon as this thing passed, if passed and it garners the 66 per cent required to organise a convention, then I think we will begin to talk about what areas really need to be amended. Because it has passed legislature, both houses of the legislature, it means that we are for a convention. So we need to give it over to the people now to approve in the next general election, and we're looking at next November, a general election.
COONEY: If you were to talk to the people of the CNMI and give a reason why they should support and be active in taking part in a constitutional convention when it is held, what would be the words you'd use?
OGUMORO: Well I will encourage them to vote for the question to vote in favour of that question, and I'm sure that we have areas that we want to see changed, modified in our constitution at this point in time.
COONEY: But while the legislature supports holding a convention, many of its members doubt, it will really have any impact.
Joseph Deleon Guerero is the speaker of the Legislature, and he says in past any constitutional amendments have only succeeded in being passed and ratified if they are created in there, with previous con cons, providing a voice for the public, but little in the way of action on what they wanted.
GUERERO: In the 94 constitutional convention there were so many proposed amendments, I believe none of the amendments were approved by the people, there were just so many of them. And I think people were very conservative and none of them made it through. I guess the people probably felt that because of that just too much resources, too much time and it ended up it wasn't very effective. The most common way to amend the constitution, which has been used very often is the legislative initiative. I don't think any of the members are opposed to having a Con Con, simply because it gives members of the public out there the opportunity to also propose constitutional amendments, aside from just the legislature.
COONEY: A lot of those suggestions that come to the legislature though for changes or amendments to the constitution I would imagine they would come from that public anyway, would I be right?
GUERERO: That's correct and that's why for the most part that's how changes have been made to the constitution. Also the threshold for amending the constitution is much more rigorous via the constitutional convention, it not only has to secure a majority of the votes cast by the public, it also has to muster at least two-thirds of the votes cast in two or the three senatorial districts here. Meaning of the three islands; Saipan, Tinian and Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, at least two of those any three islands has to concur or vote in the affirmative by two-thirds. So the threshold is much higher and perhaps that why Con Cons have not been proposed that often.
COONEY: So it's not as simple as it looks? It's not as easy as it would appear at first glance?
GUERERO: Yes as compared to passing via legislative initiative, if a constitutional amendment is proposed by legislative initiative it does require that it musters three-fourths of the members of each house, the House of Representatives and the Senate, to be able to put it before the people. So once it's put before the people it only requires a simple majority of the votes cast by the people.

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