By J. K. Roberts
Grenadians are to undergo a national referendum on constitutional reform by the end of this year 2014. This was accentuated by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell in his 2014 national budget address and national independence address.
However, there are many debates and doubts amongst individuals and institutions as to what form and/or to what extent would this reform take; and of course, not only must a citizen be concerned with the contents of the reform package but how would the issues be presented for voting in the referendum. The process and approach required to ensure a credible referendum and a rewarding reform is not yet appreciated.
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.
Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) government is apparently not even settled on the focus of the reform, except for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), when considering that on every official pronouncement different open-ended issues are stated for the process. Further, there is not a secure source (or sources) of finance for the reform process, since the government plans to arrange for the establishment of a trust fund so that various persons including international organisations can contribute to help cover the costs of the exercise.
It must not be missed, though, that tremendous costs will result from the reform; the real and substantial costs are not limited to the direct and immediate processes but are extended to the thereafter legislative and administrative obligations. Grenadians will have to bear the bulk of the secondary costs, such as a high price for a new designed passport (and other national documents) having a change of the official name of the tri-island state.
Declaring, “Ultimately, government intends to hold a referendum in 2014 on a new constitution for Grenada, one that is truly homegrown,” induces extreme expectations such as having a complete “re-writing and re-enacting” of a constitution which is synonymous to the model of Grenada’s late constitutional professor, Dr Simeon C. R. McIntosh. [McIntosh’s proposal can be studied by searching the Internet for Re-drafting The Grenada Constitution (along with the Preliminary Pages on re-drafting the Grenada Constitution)].
Branding the new constitution as homegrown and associating this to the NNP’s New Economy is leaving the people with extreme expectations which also is full of fallaciousness, on the importance and outcome of the referendum. The Grenadian people must be told that the reform will not bring relief from their anxieties and woes, but rather it would intensify the austerity measures and shared sacrifices beyond their estimated and tolerable levels.
Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, another local attorney in constitutional law, gave a clear view as to what is involved in the reviewing of a constitution, which may lead either to slight amendments to effect efficiency and effectiveness in the system of governance or to radical changes that would affect the system of governance resulting in a different structure from the original establishment.
Joseph, who was speaker of the House of Representatives and now president of the Senate, pondered on the quest for constitutional reform for Grenada in his commentary column in March 2013 by begging “should we not hasten slowly?” Being mindful that there could be “confusion and chaos” with the result of a YES vote in the referendum for the reform, Joseph returned to the topic and, in an article in February 2014, highlighted “the Key Characteristics of an Ideal Constitution”; reference to the website, www.NowGrenada.com.
Reforming the constitution must therefore be in the genuine spirit of achieving the ideal state, and this has to be considered within the context of philosophy, practicality, people and principles. How Grenada’s present constitution deviates from the ideal, and why, is the big question!
The referendum would surely test the critical thinking, intellectual capacity and political consciousness of Grenadians, especially in terms of differentiating between the cases for independent voting over partisan voting. All sensible, stable and sober patriots should be prepared to vote NO for the reform, unless they understand the issues fully, are satisfied that their causes are met unreservedly, and that the process will be to the benefit of the entire nation democratically.
Everyone needs to be alert and astute on the reasons and recommendations presented for the reform, and to analyse them within the context of national sovereignty, good governance, prosperity development and personal accountability with penalty. Voting in a referendum is a much more significant and serious business than voting in parliamentary elections, and so the onus is also on the government to practice decent wooing (and not rhetoric campaigning) of the populace in such a far-reaching undertaking. A correct and conducive environment is very crucial in enabling and enforcing the process.
It is understood to think of a Yes for the reform coming from a wide cross-section of the Grenadian population, but this should not daunt those who know what is right and reasonable and are prepared to stand for what is right and reasonable.
There are many passionate and meaningful expressions with the belief that the solution to the nation’s social, economic and political predicaments, as well as the recipe for its sound sustainable development, lies in constitutional reform; but it is critical to ascertain whether the objective and intent of the government for the reform is not at variance with the wishes and hopes of the people. The viewpoint that laws are always made in the interest of the lawmakers, with power in the hands of the affluent, must never be ignored.
The NNP administration is poised with its strength of all parliamentary seats and this glow is bolstered by the opposition parties being common in principle for the reform. The National Advisory Committee spearheading the reform is headed by another Grenadian constitutional expert and proponent for the process, Dr Francis Alexis, and consists of noted academicians, practitioners and broad-based sectoral representations.
There is also the social partners’ forum involving civil society, the church, the private sector and the trade unions in collaboration with the government on the way forward for Grenada. The legal profession (Grenada Bar) would support the reform, especially on the CCJ and as a memorial of its deceased colleague Professor McIntosh. Solidarity support stemming from the drive of realising regionalism, will also tend to influence the reform.
There are many persons who are generally against the British system and specifically disdain the manner by which Grenada’s independence was obtained, with the point that the present constitution is not authoritative and authentic; they would therefore strongly vote for the reform in protest. the government is aware of the favourable factors for the reform and will take the full advantage to play on the emotion and enthusiasm of the people. The fooling and softening of the people has already began as the prime minister proclaims, “...after forty years, it is time to wean ourselves of some of the remaining vestiges of colonialism... this current generation firmly believes that for us to live out the true meaning of our independence, the 40th-year mark is a good time to start with the type of constitutional reforms that will reassert our independence.”
The promotion of such dangling views is unfortunate and sad, since it can mislead gullible and ignorant people, especially the young and unsuspecting. What unique circumstances and achievements Grenada has to reassert its independence, which other Caribbean countries of far over 40 years independence do not have, for the reform?
The Christian community is also persuaded for the reform when Dr Mitchell remarked, “Forty years... is a landmark in Biblical times. Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, until they were able to see the Promised Land.”
However, there is no substantial analogy and application of the situation involving the 40 years in the wilderness to the 40 years of Grenada’s Independence. If there is, then within the Biblical context we may conclude at least that Grenadians wandered and suffered for 40 years due to an ill-conceived and immature independence and also that Mitchell is not fit and able to give constitutional reform in the same way that Moses did not eventually lead into and enter the Promised Land.
In fact, the lingering of the 40 years in the wilderness was a form of punishment of God on the Israelites because of their rebellion, idolatry, corruption and disobedience. The reform will not give the “milk and honey”, but much awkwardness.
Constitutional reform for Grenada at this point in time would be premature in terms of the population not having a clear knowledge and understanding of the issues, as well as in terms of the nation being in fiscal woes. Definitely, the reform cannot be a necessity or a priority when for example there are deplorable hospital conditions and it is not a must or a requisite for doing business with the international community unless, for example, there is a carrot for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Moreover, the reform would be comical and superficial when, for example, contemplation is to have the inclusion of Carriacou and Petit Martinique in the official name of the tri-island state; this could be so contemptuous and disgusting when the present constitution calls for local government for Carriacou and Petit Martinique and this is not a reality even after 40 years.
With these considerations then, constitutional reform for Grenada is merely about political luxury and egocentricity. All eligible electorate is encouraged to participate in the referendum but should be on the side of caution and prepare to vote No. The search and sensitization for the reform must, however, continue on to an appropriate and enabling period. In the meantime, better respect must be shown for the Grenada constitution with legislative reform to include adhering to parliamentary regulations such as on invoking the committees.