Constitutional Reform is Back!

It appears that the Government of Dr. Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) is now ‘set and ready’ to deliver Constitutional Reform. For Grenada, like most of the other English-speaking Caribbean Commonwealth countries, this is a very important prerequisite for the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its Final Appellate court. At the swearing-in ceremony of his Executive on Sunday 3 March 2013 in a public rally at the National Stadium, which was marked with many invited foreign dignitaries including regional representatives, Dr. Mitchell gave strong indications of his intention to accelerate the pace of Caricom whose existence is ‘in limbo and held in disdain’; the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) as well as the CCJ which is itself an element in the realisation of the CSME, are major in this Regional Integration drive.

Many professional persons and leading institutions inside and outside of Grenada would welcome the intention and plans concerning the Position for Constitutional Reform to whatever the extent. However, it should be reasonable for an ordinary citizen to wonder about the benefits thereof, to seek pertinent clarifications and to question possible political ploys for such far-reaching decision. The argument being promoted that consensus on the part of the NNP and the main opposition party of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has already been reached, that the related issues and concerns on the Position have already been ventilated with the presentations of Reports and Drafts for the ‘new constitution’ and that there were deep and extensive consultations in the putting-together of the NNP’s 2013 Election Manifesto in which allusion is made of the Reform, must not be taken for granted and as final but the Position must be sensed and approached cautiously and soberly. Although the Reform is not strange for the people, definitely it is not settled in the people’s minds.

The issue of the CCJ is not explicitly highlighted in the 2013 Manifesto of neither the NNP nor the NDC, but there is no doubt that the argument for Constitutional Reform will also be centred on the merits for entering into the CCJ as against continuing appeals to the English Privy Council. This being the clear case then it is imperative that comprehensive information and adequate avenues be opened widely to the people so that they can deliberate fully on all of the concerns involved. It is not ‘sufficient and fair’ to cause the people to consent for the CCJ on the basis that Grenada is already paying for the service of this Judicial body and even on any urgency of the English’s Law Lords to relinquish jurisdiction for the Caribbean; but it is much more ‘relevant and important’ to show how the people will get value for money, be empowered for prosperity and be guaranteed moral and legal justice from the CCJ. The various populations need to develop ‘confidence and pride’ in the System.

The massive historic victory of the NNP in the 2013 National Election with the result of having no Parliamentary Opposition in Grenada and the apparent strong institutional support for the Government from all sectors of Civil Society, as well as the persuasive calls for National Unity, must not be misinterpreted and abused to inflict processes and measures on the nationals; ‘unjustifiable actions’ which will drastically affect the future of the State in a negative way. Despite the eagerness, necessity and fundamentality for Constitutional Reform, all variables and parameters including anticipated effects, must be ‘factored and balanced’ properly in the equation; as such there should not be any ‘death speed ahead’ for ‘premature fruition’ on this serious Matter.

Constitutional Reform is critical to serve the wide national interest and must not be undertaken for narrow partisan politics; as provided for in the ‘existing constitution’, a Public Referendum would reflect this by appealing to at least two-thirds of those who voted. There is no room for political expediency on genuine reasons for the Reform, which should essentially be about enhancing the ‘political system and governance execution’ in the State. In this light, it is of wisdom not to have such a referendum concurrently promoted and ran during the period of a National Election and so too, trivial and sensational issues must not be used to confuse the main reason and to cover any hidden agenda for the Referendum. Anything or any action done to cause prejudice to the outcome of a referendum especially on constitutional matters must be denounced as Treachery against the State; that is, quite often statistical questions on key issues are ‘crafted’ to mislead the population in giving a particular result. A ‘noble and deserving’ undertaking does not need to be tainted.

The efforts for Constitutional Reform must resonate with the ‘understanding and will’ of the masses. The substance, scope and status of the ‘existing constitution’ including any deficiencies and limitations in terms of provisions and applications must be thoroughly expressed to the masses, and equally too, the main problems to be corrected under the Reform’s process must be presented with the solutions in a suitable structure to the masses. Pointedly, the NNP Government must be vigorously quizzed on its position for the Reform since a second ‘Review with Recommendations’ was done under its order and watch in 2006 but with no substantial public declaration made to the masses and that in 2010 when the NDC Government attempted to bring closure to the Process the said NNP whilst in opposition voiced serious objections essentially on the basis that the socio-economic climate of the nation was not adequate for the masses to actively participate. Reform therefore is never a priority but ‘accidental’ and it is not to be isolated for ‘independent treatment’.

The ‘civic and political consciousness and stance’ of the Grenadian population needs to be improved and particularly, the masses must be empowered within a ‘meaningful environment’ for an important exercise as Constitutional Reform. Critical concerns on the technical intricacies, political will and moral persuasion of the Government to adhered to, or not to adhered to, the ‘intent and spirit’ of the ‘existing constitution’ must be brought to the fore. Think for example of the eligibility criteria for being a parliamentarian, which have been blatantly breached and how heavy State funds were used to defend the violation of the constitutional provisions or to prove that the provisions are wrong. A most sad situation presently, is the disadvantage experienced by Public Officers in terms of the denial of their constitutional rights to pensions and how legal technicalities, political manoeuvrings, economic abnormalities and industrial trends are used to support that violation.

Many issues are advanced for addressing under Constitutional Reform but most of those can be easily dealt with otherwise under different provisions within the legislative powers of the Government. Moreover, it must be reiterated that items considered for the Reform must not be compounded or mingled but as far as is possible each item must be raised independently in a referendum one by one. With the long-time proposition for Reform and with the surface again for same from the 2013 Election, it is logical and fitting to tackle the analysis of the Election and determine whether or not that there are any disturbing issues which are worthy as items for the Reform and at what stage. A Constitution gives the ‘viable framework of focus, direction and authority’ for enactment and amendment of laws. Failings in using the constitutional provisions do not give reason for Constitutional Reform. In Grenada there are laws and regulations yet to be in conformity with ‘its Constitution’, as well as others, which need to be abolished from the Statutes Books; without which the public loses on Justice.

Constitutional Reform for Grenada must be well defined and given real meaning. As the rationale, form and context unfold and dimensionalised, personal sentiments will be shared with the general public accordingly. It is expected that pronouncements on the strategies of the way forward for the Reform will be outlined in the pending National Budget. With the present ‘signal and situation’ for the Reform, intellectual debates have already started, with the generation of controversial views on the extent of the Process in terms of “review or reform”; the public is therefore required to be ‘vigilant and vigorous and vociferous’ as it decides on the Issue.

By J.K. Roberts — 25 March 2013

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