By J. K. Roberts
February 10, 2015, has been set as the date for the holding of the first national referendum in Grenada, to reform the country’s 1974 independence constitution. It is not far-fetched to think that this date has been politically calculated, aimed at arousing and captivating the ‘emotion and insanity’ of the citizens.
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 month of February marks at least three historic events that somewhat bear on the reform and these would have been considered in setting the date: the independence anniversary of Grenada, the establishment anniversary of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the anniversary of the unprecedented second time sweep the board in the national elections by Dr Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP).
It is no secret that Dr Mitchell has a vested interest to have the reform, especially as he seeks to boost NNP’s victory celebration and his ‘legacy’ as prime minister, at all costs to whomsoever.
But the frolic surrounding the celebrations and the hype for the so-called reform would cloud over the clear conscience and sound judgment of the electorate, and thus rendering the referendum a farce. It must be acknowledged and accepted that the short-lived show of patriotism, national unity and non-partisanship during the independence celebrations cannot qualify the state of mind for deciding on a greatly impacting national issue such as the supreme and sacrosanct governance policy that is the constitution with entrenched provisions that Grenadians must preserve.
Deputy prime minister and legal affairs minister, the Honourable Elvin Nimrod, in announcing the date on July 15, 2014, for the referendum, also disclosed that the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee presented 25 proposals to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell for consideration, but only 12 will be on the table for approval by the people.
The minister intimated that constitutional reform is a continuous process and that the other recommendations would be addressed over the coming time. But what has become much clearer from Minister Nimrod’s expressions, which have been laced with deceit and disguise, is that the reform is not about the Grenadian people and their wishes but it is really about the government and its interest groups.
It is noble and progressive to reform the constitution of a country, but it would be a well-deserved undertaking when the reform is imperative and engrosses the people and that the efforts and actions in achieving the cause are sincere. There is virtually nothing commendable about the attitude and approach by the government and the advisory committee regarding the reform project, which was (re)launched on January 16, 2014, by Dr the Right Honourable Mitchell.
It should be easy to recognize that the process and work towards the reform go against the true spirit of democracy and sovereignty and against the true intent for good governance and national development. In fact, a fundamental basis on which the reform is promoted has not been realized -- that of engaging and accommodating the people meaningfully in (re)writing their political status of identity, aspiration and determination which was not evident when the constitution was institutionalized in 1974.
Chairman of the advisory committee, Dr Francis Alexis QC (constitutional lawyer, former university lecturer, former attorney-general, a political leader and an author), pronounced the reform project as an open university on the constitution of Grenada; but unfortunately this designation has not met its meaning, reputation or expectation.
Instead, at the end of the project, the Grenadian people will be left more confused and lacking in knowing what constitutes a reform, the reasons for and features of a reform and the consequences of a reform. The average Grenadian will be no more knowledgeable on the nature and purpose of a national constitution and on what his or her own present constitution provides.
The people will remain ignorant about the measures to be taken to remedy loopholes and deficiencies, as well as any maladministration in the application of the constitution. The open university will have failed the people, as they eventually experience the sad reality of not getting the substantial material and result from the reform and that it will not be easy to abort or to revert from unfavourable consequences.
The credibility of the government and the advisory committee can be critically analysed further by at least seeking some pertinent answers. Questions that need to be addressed include when, how and where could the final report containing the 25 recommendations from the so-called public consultations be obtained, and how do the contents and recommendations of this report compare with the previous reports of the Constitution Review Commissions of 1985 under Sir Fred Phillips and of 2002-2006 under Justice Lyle St Paul, as well as with the Revised Draft Constitution in 2010/2013 by the late Grenadian jurisprudence professor, Dr Randolph Simeon McIntosh.
A summary of the recommendations submitted by these commissions and with reference to McIntosh’s draft, was produced by Dr Alexis in January / February 2014, presumably to assist in guiding the reform project, but kept within limits from the public. (Visit Grenada Constitution Reform
and Government of Grenada
Moreover, there is the question of what criteria have been used to determine which of the public’s concerns ascends as recommendations for the referendum. This is important because it will also help to appreciate the factors and rationales that determine how those recommendations will be classified for voting upon.
Controversial issues and non-controversial issues need to be well-defined and differentiated by the authority and to be well-understood and sanctioned by the people; and, so too, the terms of reference for combining the different issues must be of consensus. Most importantly, though, is that never must a controversial issue and a non-controversial issue form a couple for voting. Anything short of this would be of ulterior motive, amounting the referendum to treason against the state.
The next stage towards the referendum is to take the recommendations as Bills to the Parliament and to meet standard procedures, including the pivotal constitutional requirement that no less than 90 days must elapse from the introduction of the Bill(s) in the House of Representatives to the beginning of the proceedings in the House on the second reading of the Bill(s).
A referendum is a general election and, as such, it is conducted within the ambit of the legislations and regulations for that purpose; but as it is a ‘special and significant’ poll, section 39 and section 45 of Grenada’s constitution speak to more stringent requirements for the referendum. A pertinent concern, though, is that, despite the announcement of the date for the referendum, the procedures for the purposes of the referendum are yet to be prescribed by Parliament and published for familiarization, in accordance with Subsection 39(6).
Based on the ‘circumstance of poor affair’, the remaining period to the date for the referendum will not be enough to have thorough and thoughtful debate on the 12 recommendations (or, on the seven or so Bills as suggested by Dr Alexis). It can be argued that the constitution did not contemplate or mean to have so many Bills discussed simultaneously within the three-month (90 days) or so period, but that it is much more prudent to have the Bills on various policy-issues voted upon one at a time.
This further raises another interesting but worrying point; that is, which issue or Bill will be given priority and by whom? Whether the priority would be on the Caribbean Court of Justice, the configuration of the Parliament, the electoral system, the president versus governor-general, the name of the tri-island state, or the right to protest (organize a revolution) against the government; each of these issues calls for elaborate and in-depth discussions and verifications before enactment and implementation.
Prior actions should be accomplished satisfactorily to the tabling of the Bills, and this involves public education towards the enlightenment and empowerment of the citizens on the reform. It is not sufficient to raise issues in consultation sessions, but the crux is to explain the merits and demerits, as well as the practicality, the requirements and the administration that are pertinent to the issues.
This brings into sharp focus that, if the 25 or even the 12 recommendations weighted heavily in line with the draft constitution of Professor McIntosh, then his draft should have been adopted as the working document for over a few years to generate a new constitution for Grenada, which would have been piloted as a single Bill for ratification by the parliamentarians and the people.
Considering that Grenada does not have a governance and/or political crisis resulting from the construct and contents of its independence constitution and that reforming this constitution will not bring about concrete solutions to the social and economic woes that the country currently faces, then it is further disrespect and injustice to the people for the government to place upon them more public debt in undertaking the reform.
The situation is even more distasteful and annoying when a budgeted $2 million would be accessible and used only by the government for promoting its case for the reform. It should be instructive, noting that a large percent of the over $2 billion of Grenada’s public debt at the beginning of 2014 was incurred due to government’s abuses of the constitution.
Based on the concepts of universal equity and equal opportunity, as well as the need to demonstrate transparency, accountability, impartiality and inclusiveness, it is advantageous to ensure that a portion of monetary assistance received for the reform be extended to an independent body that would be able to articulate the deeper concerns of the general public and to broaden the dimensions on the various issues.
An opposing team is critical to provide exciting balance in any debate and this is more needful in achieving the reform, especially with the presence of no official opposition in the Parliament of Grenada (see Grenada Constitutional Reform: Objectivity is required
, with a call made).
The fact that the NNP captured all of the parliamentary-representative seats in the last general elections that took place in February 2013, does not give the NNP government monopoly on all principles, policies, practices and privileges. The fact that over 10 percent of the electorate did not vote in the elections and that over 40 percent of those who voted favoured the other political parties, dictates that a forum must be given to have ventilation on constitutional and governance issues.
Moreover, since apolitical and/or non-partisan positions should guide voting in a referendum, then emphasis must be placed on presenting undiluted information on the pertinent issues and on providing the adequate means for same. International agencies such as the Organization of American States (OAS), which have been promoting people’s participation and good government, must insist that monies secured for the referendum be allocated to civil groups accordingly and be spent within social responsibility.
The date is set for the referendum; but the people are not ready and the conditions are not right for this serious national occasion. With the government bent on having its way with the reform, it is incumbent on all goodwill sectors and organizations, including those represented on the advisory committee, to mobilize and prepare with precautions, its constituent-members for active participation in the referendum (see also Grenada Constitutional Reform: National stakeholders declare your stance!
Professional conduct helps to ensure that the outcome of the referendum, NO or YES, is a win for Grenada. The role of the formal media is key to enhancing the quality of communication to the public on this far-reaching current affair, and this role should not be subverted so as to have the varying views of the citizens blocked. It is now all about alertness and soberness without destructive polarization!