By Dr Lawrence A Joseph
As Grenada is in the process of reviewing its Constitution, a significant question which many people are asking is: Should we retain the monarchical system of government that we have, or should we opt for a Republican system?
This is a fair question, and in order to make a rational decision on the matter, it is most important that people in general fully understand the ramifications of choosing either one or the other.
Section 57 of the Grenada Constitution provides that the monarch of the UK through the Governor-General is vested with executive authority here in Grenada. This executive authority may be exercised either directly or indirectly through the Prime Minister and his Cabinet of Ministers. In this context, the Governor-General is regarded as the Head of State and the Prime Minister as the Head of Government. Grenada therefore has a constitutional monarchy which system has been adopted by sixteen other independent commonwealth countries including Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Australia, and all OECS countries with the exception of Dominica.
It is to be noted that section 62 (1) of the Constitution provides that, “in the exercise of his functions the Governor-General shall act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or a minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet except in cases where he is required by the Constitution or any other law, to act in accordance with the advice of any person or authority other than the Cabinet or in his own deliberate judgment.” This provision emphasises the fact that it is the Prime Minister and his Cabinet who are really in charge of the affairs of state, and not the Governor-General.
Besides the monarchical system of government, another form of government is that of a Republic. This form of government may have either a Ceremonial President such as in Trinidad and Tobago and in Dominica or an Executive President such as in the United States of America or in Guyana. The Ceremonial President is regarded as Head of State and performs similar tasks as those of the Governor-General in a monarchical system. In this system, also the Prime Minister is the Head of Government.
In stark contrast to this situation, the Executive President is both Head of State and Head of Government. Sometimes however, the Executive President may encounter serious problems pertaining to the passage of legislation if the Congress (as in the USA) or the Parliament (as in Guyana) is controlled by a party to which the Executive President does not belong. These problems have actually occurred in both the USA and in Guyana in recent times.
As with the monarchical system, the origin of republicanism dates back to many centuries. During those early times, it was felt that more power should lie in the domain of the general public rather than in the hands of an absolute monarch. However, the distinction between the modern day republic and a constitutional monarchy is not entirely clear, as one could argue that with free and fair elections taking place in either system of government, and with adequate constitutional safeguards, power actually lies in the hands of the populace. Perhaps the only recognisable distinction is that the republican system has a President and the other has a Monarch.
The question therefore boils down to whether the monarch of the UK should continue to be recognised as Grenada’s Head of State, or whether a Grenadian should be appointed to that position in the capacity as President. If a republican system is adopted here in Grenada, the Queen’s awards such as the BEM, the MBE and Knighthoods which are given to deserving Grenadians would no longer be available. The award of Queen’s Counsel (QC) would also no longer be available to outstanding attorneys. Some may regard these awards as being meaningless, others may not. A counter argument is that Grenada could establish its own awards. However whether these new awards would have the same significance as those from the Queen would be another question, bearing in mind that the Queen’s awards go back to many centuries and are given in very limited numbers.
One argument in favour of adopting a republican system of government is that it is likely to stir up nationalistic fervour. In this way it is argued, that Grenadians would become more Grenadianised and would become more productive. This would really be a good thing but firstly, Grenadians must fully appreciate the real meaning of Republicanism. It may not make any sense however, if the country goes headlong into a new system without having the opportunity to benefit from this nationalistic fervour. Is the timing right for this new venture? Or is it better to be safe than sorry? An autocratic President in a Republic can be just as bad as an autocratic Prime Minister in a Monarchy.
What will it be then, a Monarchy or a Republic?