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Commentary: Grenada Constitutional Reform: National stakeholders declare your stance!
Published on April 17, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By J. K. Roberts

A previous call has been made for “independent, vigilant and forthright individuals” to come forward in constituting an opposing team on the “final proposals” for constitutional reform in Grenada. This is quite fitting and relevant based on the one sided institutional configuration surrounding the reform project, which also speaks to the situation of having no official opposition in the House of Representatives.

J. K. Roberts is not an expert on the professional disciplines highlighted in his writings, but sees himself as having keen and passionate interest in public policies’ advocacy and analysis. He is a ‘premature retiree’ of the public service of Grenada, the author of two books (“Into The 21st Century”, 1995, and “Management Practices in The Public Service of Grenada”, 2011) and the founder of a civil society organisation called National Initiative for Prolific Policies (NIPP Grenada Inc.) for well over a decade and a half.
The government is virtually the only mouthpiece on the project and has established a broad-based multipartite constitution reform advisory committee to spearhead the project and to gain support for the reform. Chairman of the advisory committee, Grenada’s former attorney-general Dr Francis Alexis QC, who was the lead consultant and drafter of the proposed new constitution for St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in 2009, scoffed at the idea for the opposing team, during one of the community meetings on the reform.

It would be bad and sad though, at least, if the advisory committee is a charade to give the impression that there is ‘universal consensus’ on the reform and in part, if Dr. Alexis is trying to circumvent constructive challenges as a precaution against any potential for a repeat failure in his assignment for constitutional reform, following the experiences from SVG.

Notwithstanding the constitution reform advisory committee has representations, in collaboration with the government, of the sister isles of Carriacou and Petit Martinique, political parties, social partners, youths and other stakeholders including the Grenada Bar Association and the Bar Association of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Inter-Agency Group of Development Organisations, the Association of Evangelical Churches and the Conference of Churches, the Media Workers Association of Grenada, the Trade Union Council, and the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce; this alone does not give credibility and confidence in the reform project.

The fact remains that the opportunity was not given to the people for their input and verdict on the selection of these sectors and the representatives, as well as on the construct and execution of the project. Moreover, others bodies such as Grenada human rights organisations may wish to be represented.

The point must be reiterated that there is the critical need to broaden and enrich the process, as well as to enlighten and empower the population, towards the holding of a national referendum on the constitution reform. Whilst it may be agreed that tremendous consultations have taken place for the reform dating back to 1985 and maybe even earlier, it should be very conspicuous that intellectual debates on the merits and demerits of the issues have not taken place.

Also significant for the debates, must be comprehensive consideration for the financial impacts and extensive implications of the reform. The commonality of the need for the reform and the continuity of the process for the reform, by successive governing administrations, do not negate the responsibility and value to employ worthwhile practices at this climaxing and closing juncture.

Particularly on behalf of the ordinary citizens, the opposing team is needed to provide compelling conditions for the referendum and a channel through which concerns of the general public can be adequately made. A noble venture requires noble treatment and so defining the future of a nation needs the supreme attention of its people.

The most sovereign, sentimental and sensational reason advanced for the reform is that there was no real participation of the local people in the process for Grenada’s 1974 independence constitution and that the constitution was promulgated in literal darkness that was associated with political and social unrest. This speaks to the case that Grenada obtained a constitution that does not reflect the identity and aspiration of its people.

There was no objection in principle to having Independence for the country; it was however felt that the intention was not genuine, the approach was improper, the conditions were not conducive and that there were more pressing and pointing issues to be addressed. Nationwide protests against the notion for independence intensified with the formation of the “Committee of 22” comprising virtually every aspect of the society, as atrocities became typical of Premier Eric Gairy’s ruling administration, giving rise to the Duffus Report (1975).

Many parallels can be drawn with what was the road to Grenada’s independence and what now is for the reform, but the ugly actions of the past must not be contemplated in this modern era. The mode and mechanism of operations surrounding the obtaining of the 1974 Constitution would be seen to be different from that for the proposed constitution reform, but definitely the principle and reason are the same for both.

The underlying theme is about power and the control of all institutions of the state, by a particular class of persons or interest groups. In the effort to achieve this autocratic governance under the banner of democracy, superficiality and triviality take prominence. Just as it may be said that Grenada has a flag and anthem independence, so too the reform would be about complete de-link from the British system; with no regard for respect and safeguard for human dignity, natural justice, democratic institutions, integrity in public life and good governance.

The schedule of the reform project is structured to have the referendum anytime between November 2014 and February 2015, but it appears that the attitude and approach on this cause is not serious and sensible. A key limitation could be the unavailability of funds to generate the level of public information and public participation.

Particularly though, the time is now right to have the special interest in the reform of the various stakeholders known; their comments on the way that the project is being conducted and their concerns on the format and manner by which the issues are to be presented in the referendum must be declared. Waiting to react in an atmosphere of rhetoric and revelry on the verge of the referendum would be confusion and counterproductive.

All of the political parties (major and minor) need to present separate position papers on constitutional reform. So too must be the religious denominations (incorporated and independent), the business community (formal and informal), the community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations, the legal fraternity, the academic and professional institutions; and such the like. Great prudence must be applied with moves to dismantle the constitutional foundation of the state in order to build an unsubstantiated “New Economy”.

The Public Workers Union as well as the Grenada Union of Teachers should already be raising any dangers that the reform could bring for its members and the public service in general; this should be so, especially noting the recorded abuses of the present constitution and contemptuous pronouncements made of public officers by the government.

The stakeholders of the nation have a patriotic responsibility to guide their constituent-memberships, encouraging them to participate actively in the consultations on the reform as well as to participate astutely in the referendum; impressing and imploring for conscience and not partisan in every such decisions.

Individuals who have being publicly sharing their personal and professional views on the reform for Grenada must be applauded. Although he is the president of the local Bar, attorney James Bristol has expressed his fears about the motive for the reform; although he is the president of the Senate and member of the advisory committee, attorney Dr Lawrence Joseph has being sending warning signals as to the pace and extent for the reform; and although he would favour the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), attorney Anselm Clouden opined that it is untimely and that more in-depth thought should be given to accede to the CCJ since this would cause more embarrassments in attending to financial obligations.

In his ‘objective and remarkable’ way, attorney Ruggles Ferguson, president of the OECS Bar and its representative on the advisory committee, has been over the past many years via different forums disseminating useful information on the reform. Ferguson’s zeal for public education is evident in his forefront involvement with the weekly online broadcast programme Law Made Simple and with the introduction of the annual Sir Archibald Nedd Memorial Lecture series by the local Bar.

The fourth Sir Archibald Nedd Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves in February 2002, upon months of him taking prime ministership of St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2001; the topic was “The role of the Prime Minister under the constitutions of Commonwealth Caribbean states – too much or too little power?” Interestingly, Gonsalves and his Unity Labour Party (ULP) lost the Yes-vote for constitution reform to the Eustace-led opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) campaigning that the proposed new constitution would not bring reduced power of the prime minister (but strengthens it).

The issues of the great power with impunity of the prime minister and the absence of provisions to recall elected representatives are of grave concern for Grenadians, but these are not given specific and detailed play in the reform project.

There are no definite issues for constitution reform, which are presented to the general public for ventilation. In fact, it is amiss that to date at this stage, the public has no easy and direct access to any document which encapsulates all the recommendations put forward from the previous constitution reviews held, as well as the draft new constitution done by the late law professor Dr. Simeon McIntosh, who has written extensively on constitutional matters; and this should be so, especially that a watchword for the advisory committee is about continuity and not reinventing the wheel.

Each of the various stakeholders should already have in its possession these documents for study and to make suitable responses, in consultation with their constituents.

The key issues which the government seems to favour for the reform include the structure and composition of Grenada’s Parliament and the regulation of the Parliament, the executive powers of Cabinet, an Electoral Commission, citizenship and nationality, accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice as Grenada’s final appellate court, the Supreme Court of Grenada and the West Indies Associated States to be changed to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, and the changing of the name of the tri-island state from Grenada to Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique.

But again, none of these issues have been expounded, giving highlights on how the regulations and systems for its effective and efficient functioning would be established, or to show how transparency and accountability in government and the socio-economic welfare of the state will be enhanced.

Whilst there is the accepted need for constitutional reform in Grenada with the dynamics of time and circumstances, there is definitely no imperativeness for the reform; and worse yet, there are many unanswered questions to be clarified before reaching this feat. One of the many challenges is how the diverse views of the people would be accommodated; but more so, who and what will determine the controversial and non-controversial issues and the matrix for the combination of those issues for the referendum?

The call is hereby made for all of the stakeholders of the state to declare their hands on this very important undertaking of constitutional reform. Without the forceful intervention by the stakeholders, the referendum could result in dire consequences for generations to come. The ignorance of the people, the complacency and silence of the stakeholders and the arrogance of the powers-that-be, must never be allowed to negatively affect the outcome of the referendum. It is now sober time for sound reasoning on the choice at hand!
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