By Jerry Edwin
February 2015 is the date set for a referendum to amend the constitution of Grenada.
The single issue that has been driving constitutional reform is whether Grenada should make the Caribbean Court of Justice its final court of appeal instead of sending cases to the London-based Privy Council.
Jerry Edwin is an attorney practicing in Grenada and in the United Sates. He is also an anti-money laundering compliance policy expert and investigator who regularly consults with global and smaller financial institutions, government agencies and represents companies and individuals in areas of consumer banking and white collar crime.
Officials from the Court have publicly stated that Grenada does not have to ante up a penny to join because the trust fund that pays the Court’s expenses has sufficient financial reserves. So that should satisfy those who justifiably were concerned about fiscal prudence; post-haste, Grenada should make this world-class court our final court of appeal.
Retaining the Privy Council as Grenada’s final court cannot be reconciled with the swelling movement throughout the Caribbean for reparations from Britain.
Instead of focusing its attention and resources on membership in the CCJ, the government of Grenada, aided by a reform commission, is presenting 12 proposals to the referendum, which appears calculated to give more power, posts and pay to members of the political class and their supporters.
The most offensive of the proposed amendments is whether Grenada should become a republic or retain its parliamentary democracy system of government. Not far behind is another proposal to create a new elections commission.
It appears that the politicians on all sides in Grenada are salivating at the chance for even more layers of government all the while suffering permanent memory-loss that the ink is not yet dry on a binding compact made with the citizens for collective sacrifice to relieve the crippling economic crisis.
Whether Grenada should be a republic with an executive president and a prime minister is stunningly short-sighted when the country is in the midst of what all agree is an economic crisis and the homeland may be on the verge of defaulting on its external debt.
Then again, the very commission that was appointed to spearhead the referendum was led by a politician, albeit a failed one, thus the offensive nature of those proposals would not be evident to the people who were charged with coming up with them in the first case.
Why are the politicians leading the reform process? Likely it’s because so-called civil society leaders in Grenada have been compromised by their own public political choices that they cannot effectively use the megaphone of protest to quiet the politicians whose entire purpose in life is to feed at the public teat. Most local media, too, takes cues from the background support of their favourite politicians.
Where does that leave the ordinary citizens?
Only in Grenada do we have more politicians than priests and pastors. But wait, I forgot; pastors have abandoned soul saving and are now politicians if one looks at the current Parliament and the one before it.
However, far from being under threat, democracy is alive and well in Grenada. The national vote in 2013 was completely free and fair, evidenced by the decisive trouncing of the NDC by the current party holding political power. So why is an electoral boundary commission on next year’s referendum?
Answer: more posts, more pay for the rabid supporters of the two leading political parties.
It is as if the total rejection by our neighbours in St Vincent of a similar proposal to change their little island into a republic did not happen. True, the annual carnival season is here now so it appears that Spice Island politicians intentionally choose to ignore their neighbour’s music embroiled as they seem to be in the throes of our own fete.
These politicians seem to care less about embracing a world-class Caribbean court, which is seen around the world as a model for the administration of justice, because their own selfish ambitions are more pressing and cannot wait.
Some argue that Grenada already has too many political officers, many of whom never had a mortgage in their adult life, or they don't have any education after secondary school and most produce an astonishing increase in body fat content that directly correlates to the term they spend in the Parliament.
So imagine if they could lead a republic!
Context is everything. In the current political climate the polarization of the political classes in Grenada is untenable. There does not appear to be one single issue on which the two political parties agree. Surely the politicians are not united on public policy issues; everything offered by government is rejected in the Senate, the only forum where the opposition has a voice.
But having done so little to alleviate the challenges of our people since the British gave us independence in 1974, now the political class wants more power. What have these boys and girls accomplished to merit more power and authority over the citizens?
Opinion is unanimous that a crisis of governance does in fact exist because the culture of opaque policy making, which has not changed.
Even the United States State Department observes that a pervasive pattern of insidious corruption in government persists here because accountability measures are not institutionalized. The last NDC government did little to make government transparent and no movement is afoot at the present time. No transparency measures are in next year’s referendum vote either.
And yes, in the face of lackluster government, Grenadians do vote – with their feet. Grenada is a world leader in out-migration. Officials at the local community college openly admit that more than half of their students leave the island just after graduation this and every year preceding. The island is in the top five countries on earth where tertiary educated citizens leave their homeland.
The position taken here bears no allegiance to the deep political chasm that strangles public discourse in Grenada. It is mindful of the reality that economic growth is severely constrained, pressure everywhere that one of the most popular calypsos this season is about taxing everything from waking to walking to whining.
True to form, a pro-NDC faction accuses Prime Minister Mitchell and his newest political confidante, the former NDC General Secretary Peter David, of wanting a one-party state with their socialist comrades in tow! No one could credit partisan voices with wisdom and stupidity always searches for the bottom so that view must reflect the absence of intellectual girth. Or more likely all three.
Politicians of all stripes, who seem not to have a clear vision of how to grow agro-business, create viable opportunity for young educated persons, eradicate wide-spread theft from farmers, or raise educational standards, don’t deserve more power.
The citizens want more transparency from government not new layers of administration and bureaucracy. So the political classes on both sides should just cool their heels. They are not as important as they may think.
The current politicians should work harder to get Grenada out of the current economic quagmire and then we can discuss whether they deserve new powers, portfolios and greater salaries. The citizens should debunk thin arguments about the costs of amending the constitution a second time because, in the end, the real costs of the changes that serve the politician’s interest are far weightier for the country.
The economy is under heavy weight as Grenada tries to convince its debt holders at home and abroad to hold their hand as we get the crushing ship of debt under control.
The only conclusion to be drawn from the last election result is that a majority of Grenadians have given Prime Minister Mitchell a broad mandate to lead the fight for Project Grenada.
Grenada’s voters may well say Yes to the Caribbean Court of Justice next February. They should all say No to Project Politician.