By J. K. Roberts
The official statements coming from Dr. Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP) Government to deliver Constitutional Reform for Grenada by 2015 must be dismissed as political bluff, grandiosity and rhetoric, rather than to be taken as genuine motive, admirable promise and realistic expectation. There are many unfavourable factors to the realisation of the Reform and there is no doubt that the Political Leadership is aware fully of all of the cynicisms, hurdles and limitations including time constraints. Moreover, Prime Minister Mitchell has a ‘moral responsibility’ firstly to reveal to the general public the findings from the Grenadian people and the verdict of the NNP on the 2003-2006 Constitution Review Process which is an important precursor to the Reform.
Although it is a noble desire to achieve Constitutional Reform, certain worthy criteria must be met unequivocally or else achieving the Reform should definitely be a No No. Apart from the strictest requirement of a Public Referendum, consistent with section 39 of the Grenada Constitution, there are at least three ‘common sense’ prerequisites for the Reform to be meaningfully achieved. All of the concerns advanced for the Reform, the circumstances surrounding the Reform and the consequences of the Reform must be considered. Up to this juncture though, the philosophy and process for the Reform have not been articulated, put into proper perspective, established and declared and this is not giving a good impression about the attitude and approach of the Government on the Reform. It would be sad to have the Reform achieved under ‘psychological confusion and darkness’ just as the achievement of the ‘original Constitution’ was under physical confusion and darkness.
There are fundamental questions on the philosophy for Constitutional Reform, which need to be addressed. Some of the questions have to do with whether or not the present 1974 Constitution properly defines and reflects the ‘aspirations, determinations and ideals’ of the Grenadian people. Another aspect of the fundamental questions is about the sufficiency and suitability of the Constitution for governance. Further on the philosophy for the Reform is whether or not the Constitution is archaic or that it has been exhausted? At least finally, do these questions present a ‘compelling and imperative’ case for the Reform?
It could be said that, to all intents and purposes, the Grenada Constitution meets all of the attributes of a National Constitution and covers all of the ‘concerns and constituents’ which are typical of the Political System been adopted and cultured; at least with reference to the West Minster Parliamentary Democracy which some other nationals of the world craves. The Constitution is comprehensive, compendious and current, as well as thorough and universal in structure and substance. In fact, it is fair to say that the Constitution of Grenada is resilient enough to meet the challenges of the present and the foreseeable future; in responding to the main theme of the Constitution Review Commission during 2003 to 2006. The virtue of the Constitution can only be expressed and enjoyed when its provisions are unfolded by parliamentary proclamations of laws and regulations, and when ‘natural and moral’ justice is applied to the provisions as well as to the Statutory Orders.
Holding the view that there is no terrible problems with the ‘composition and contents’ of the Grenada Constitution, then as argued by deceased Law-Professor Dr. Simeon McIntosh for Constitutional Reform in the Caribbean Commonwealth countries which have Her Majesty the Queen of England as the Head of State, the Reform for Grenada should be fundamentally about “rewriting and re-enacting” the Constitution in an ‘indigenous manner’, incorporating a Regional Judiciary under the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and about assigning and applying the Republican status to its sovereignty. But, even when accepting the position of the Law Professor, it is important to determine whether or not the Reform is a political luxury or a political necessity, and what are the immediate and direct benefits and to whom.
There is no substantial evidence to show that there are failings in the Grenada Constitution to cause any severe constitutional crisis. The governance and political crises which have being occurring result from the faults of the Political Leadership, with their blatant acts of omission and commission, featuring many abuses in terms of disrespect and misrepresentation of the constitutional provisions; the politicians revel in satisfying their political egos over the interest of the State. Thus for example, the Constitution is not exhausted when section 107 which aims to promote Good Governance and Participatory Democracy is not fulfilled. Section 107 states: “There shall be a Council for Carriacou and Petit Martinique, which shall be the principal organ of local government in those islands. The Council shall have such membership and functions as Parliament may prescribe.“ The Local Government issue, like Constitutional Reform, has being as a recurring decimal in the Election Manifestos of virtually all of the political parties over the many years, and various Administrations have received tremendous overseas ‘technical and financial’ assistance to achieve it, but up to now this is a No No.
There are many discrepancies and hypocrisies in the application of the constitutional provisions and this may warrant settlement before moving to Constitutional Reform. Thus for example, whilst there is much clamouring for Grenada to reject swearing allegiance to a foreign Monarchy, there are many controversies as to whether or not persons holding allegiance to foreign countries should be allowed to be a Member of Parliament. Grenada’s Constitution under section 31 states inter alia: “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives if he is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state; …”. In the same enquiring vein, how would achieving a ‘fully indigenous’ Constitution of Political Independence and Sovereign Judiciary, remove the seeming subservience of the Constitution and of Grenada to international Supreme powers, laws and nations, and thereby not continuing to frustrate the local Courts and people, in bringing persons to justice for alleged crimes? Here the ‘powers, immunity and privileges’ of a sitting Prime Minister must also come in sharp focus for attention.
So far, five main areas have been identified by the NNP Government for Constitutional Reform. The 2013 Election Manifesto considers citizenship and nationality, regulation of Parliament, executive powers of Cabinet and an Electoral Commission, and the 2013 Thorne Speech declares accession to the regional CCJ. The areas mentioned in the manifesto testify of a ‘weak attempt’ by the NNP party to proclaim its interest in ‘genuine Reform’, but with the real focus being on the CCJ which may not even be the ‘major and priority’ issue of the masses. The most ridiculous ‘revelation on the deceitfulness’ of the situation, is from the “regulation of Parliament”. What does that mean when already from section 50 of the Constitution, subtitled as Regulation of procedure in Houses of Parliament, there is provision for the Government to make statutory rules and orders for the conduct of Parliament? ‘Critically stripping’ the proposals and arguments for the Reform would result in poor ‘taste and interest’ by the people for consciously voting for any alterations to the Constitution.
There are some indicators which show that the general population is excited and eager to have Constitutional Reform; but the population is also astute and alert to ensure that their ‘will and wishes’ are not overshadowed and buried by the narrow political agenda of the Government which would try to have them voting for the wrong reason in the Referendum. The Government will try to convince the people of what are fundamental, necessary, feasible, and of priority for the Reform, and instead of seeking ‘cooperation and consensus’ on pertinent issues, it would further polarise and harm the nation politically in the Reform Process.
The many reasonable and demanding inputs coming from various sectors of the society for Constitutional Reform could complicate and confuse the Process and thereby rendering the Reform a No No. There would be ‘competing ideas’ which if not properly dealt-with will result in a lot of disappointments and disgruntlements. Different Interest Groups and particularly Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are calling for their ‘roles and rights’ to be represented and protected in the Constitution; especially on the basis of ratified international treaties. There is even the persistent calls from the inhabitants of the sister isles of Carriacou and Petit Martinique for the names of the twain islands to be registered and reflected on the Official Passport and this means explicitly in the National Constitution as well. The challenge then is to educate and enlighten the people on whether or not the ‘calls and cases’ presented are justified and/or how these can be accommodated within the broader legislative framework, consistent with judicial precedents and with the provisions of the Constitution. Persons have the ‘misleading beliefs’ that the Reform will bring remedies to all governance, legal, justice and social predicaments, including discriminations and abuses especially facing the feminine gender.
Delivering Constitutional Reform in the very near future for Grenada is a very ‘ambitious undertaking’ which has a very high probability of an outright NO. The introduction of Civics and Political Science in the nation’s schools, as well as the vibrancy of Town-hall meetings will however prove fruitful in achieving the Reform, afterwards. But again; with ‘modern electioneering which involves votes buying and social networks’, anything is possible!
J. K. Roberts is an Engineer by training, a ‘premature retiree’ of the Public Service of Grenada, an 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) well over a decade now.