Grenada Constitution Reform: NDC Speak Up!

By JK Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)

On the issue of Constitutional Reform for Grenada, which the New National Party (NNP) Government of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell is determined to deliver, as a component of his Home Grown New Economy, it seems that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party does not have a position; or that the position of the NDC is neither here nor there about the outcome of a National Referendum for the Reform.

It would be unfortunate if the stance of the NDC is in response to the position of the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, Dr Francis Alexis QC, who has declared rightfully so that there is need to have that enabling environment for the Reform Project to achieve its goal and has being urging all concerned essentially the NNP and the NDC to hold political fire during the period until the Referendum is held which is anticipated to be by the next celebrations of Grenada‘s Independence anniversary in February 2015.

If it is truly the case that the NDC is reserved on declaring its position on the Reform Project, then this questions the intellectual astuteness, political aptitude, inherent sensitivity, national responsibility and substantive relevance of the party. Or, is the case one of ‘common political motive’ of the NNP and NDC for the Reform; especially when realising that Dr Alexis was the Attorney General during a previous NDC Administration and at the same time, like Dr Mitchell, his effort is to leave a ‘rich legacy’ on the reforming of Grenada’s 1974 Independence Constitution? Both NNP and NDC as well as Dr Alexis and his Advisory Committee, have a moral duty to come clean in declaring in clear terms what is the “goal” of the Reform Project and by extension what is this ‘common political motive’ for the Reform.

It is fitting and fair for the NDC to have a representation on the Reform Advisory Committee, but it is not fitting and fair for the NDC to have no independent, objective and unique position on the Reform Project. The presence of the NDC as a member of the broad-based Advisory Committee in the person of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas would be seen not merely as ‘universal consensus’ for the Reform but also as a symbol of transparency, accountability and integrity of the Reform Project. On the contrary however, all of the reasonable indicators show that the attitude and approach for this noble, sovereign and worthwhile undertaking is not commendable.

The population is about to be hoodwinked into a Referendum when there is disdain for politicians, the absence of a Parliamentary Opposition, the disarray of the Parliamentary Electoral Office, the worsening socio-economic challenges and the litany of administrative blunders and excuses by the Government. The embarrassing episode on rebranding Grenada to Pure Grenada from the traditional internationally known Grenada Isle of Spice, without meaningful involvements and measures, must be instructive to the people in venturing into Constitutional Reform. The population should not be willing to take the chance to have the rebranding of the nation’s governance philosophy, provisions and practices, with the full acknowledgement of all of the telling and troubling signs.

Following a passionate call for Independent, Vigilant and Forthright individuals to come forward in constituting an Opposing Team on the final proposals for Constitutional Reform, so as to promote lively debates toward sound judgment and thereby averting any unpleasantness with the Referendum, a similar call was made for all of the corporate stakeholders of the State to present Position Papers on this very far-reaching undertaking, as a patriotic responsible. [Search on the Internet for Objectivity is Required and for National Stakeholders Declare Your Stance]. The Government with its Advisory Committee should not be conceded ‘dominating authority’ on the Reform, as if they have the ‘trusted answers’ to all of the pertinent issues.

The foremost stakeholders that should be very vocal and active on the Reform Project are the political parties, Civil Society Organisations, Churches and the Labour Movement especially as relates to the workers of the Public Service. These sectors would be doing an injustice to their institutions and constituents, as well as to the nation for generations to come, with a deafening silence and/or compromised position. Of these sectors though, the political parties should stand as the most prominent in advocating and articulating on behalf of the general citizenry; and in fact this is a reasonable expectation and desire of the people.

Although there is no Official Opposition, the NDC would be considered to be the main Opposition political party, especially since it received about twenty-two thousands (forty percent) of the votes cast in the last General Elections which took place in 2013, had held Office in recent times and sees itself poised to and prepared for State Power again. Thus, the NDC is to provide positions and directions on national issues and in particular develop a mechanism to report to, review with and to rally its followers on the matters of the Reform Project.  Guidance and motivation are key in Leadership, but this also seems to be eluding the NDC as seen with the failure to ensure that its followers and sympathisers were all registered for the February 2013 elections and so lost heavily by default.

A political party is about perspective and process on public policies, towards intent betterment of the State. It is quite understandable as declared in the ‘standing practices’ of Parliamentary Democracy that an Opposition, whether in Parliament or otherwise, has a critical function to the country no less important than that of the Government, and moreover “the job of the Opposition is to scrutinise everything that the government does, to criticize its measures and policies and propose alternatives of their own; and to draw attention to any inefficiency or mal-administration in the conduct of national affairs”. For the NDC to allow anyone and/or anything to make it sheer from its ‘underlined role’ is indeed frightening and worrying, especially when there are indications of ideology, aspiration and manoeuvres to create Grenada as a one party State in the form of ‘Democratic Autocracy’.

The threat in a Press Conference in April 2014 by the political leader of the NDC, Senator Nazim Burke, not to cooperate further with the Government on the Reform, due to evidences of abuse to the present Constitution, is more ‘reactive than proactive’ although it is better late than never. Moreover, the declaration of the Leader at a live-broadcast public forum in May 2014 that his party supports Grenada acceding to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was vague, ‘too little and very passive’, which may cause ‘blind response’ by the people in deciding on the issue. The forum was organised to accommodate officials of the Court (CCJ) in its drive to sensitise the various regional populations about the functioning of the Court, with focus on having its acceptance. Burke who is a colleague Attorney, must be careful not to cause his personal (or professional) position to taint the political position of the party and to bypass the need to assist in educating thoroughly the nation on the issue.

It is the wide strong view that the main thrust for Constitutional Reform is to have the CCJ as the nation’s final appellate court, with all strategies employed to make this possible. The fact though is that, the CCJ issue was never explicitly promoted in the Election Manifesto of neither the NNP nor the NDC and it has not been politically ventilated even up to this time. It is regrettable to reflect on the physical darkness and contention that surrounded the introduction of the 1974 Independence Constitution. However, it would be unforgiveable to place the nation in psychological and confused darkness, so as to achieve ‘narrow interests’ with the reforming of the Constitution, especially as relates to the grave issue of access to Justice as a fundamental Human Right.

Holistic and meaningful analysis is required in enlightening the people; at least on the current status of the present Constitution, the treatment to the present Constitution, the rationale for reviewing and changing the present Constitution, the imperativeness for the Reform, the timing and condition for the Reform, the issues of substance of the Reform, the direct and indirect cost associated with the Reform, and the implications of the Reform. Commendations must be given to Dr Lawrence Joseph, President of the Senate and member of the Advisory Committee representing the Grenada Bar Association, for his intellectual public writings on the specific issues of concern, including dimensions and elaborations of the insights, on the Reform; and this must be emulated.

The NDC must recall that in December 2010 when plans were afoot to finalise a New Constitution for Grenada with the launch of the consultative process, the NNP in opposition then, was adamant with the position that it will not support such a move in light of the global economic recession. The NDC must also recognise the rigorous responses by the particular Oppositions in the Region to moves to reform the Constitutions of their countries; they all feared that the reform would result in more authority and immunity for their respective Governments or the political party in power.

The alert performance of the Opposition in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2009 did not cause any serious contentions and confusions, but it enhanced the process by ensuring that the voting in the referendum was not based on political partisanship. Moreover, despite the support in principle for Constitutional Reform and in particular to replace the British Privy Council with the CCJ, the Oppositions in Trinidad and Tobago and in Jamaica declared conditions under which the changes should take place and this in-turn has being presenting useful debates and options for considerations for the way forward.

The NDC needs to rise to the challenge and be counted favourably, at least on the issue of Constitutional Reform for Grenada!

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