By Dr Lawrence A Joseph
When all is said and done, Grenadians will have three alternatives pertaining to what should be done with the constitution. Firstly, they can choose to leave the constitution as it is as they may find it quite effective and efficient. Secondly they can have certain amendments made to it in order to enhance effectiveness and efficiency. Thirdly, they can have the constitution completely reformed if they are totally dissatisfied with the existing constitutional provisions.
In fact, giving Grenadians the opportunity to make a considered choice is the main objective of having constitution review. After holding several consultations throughout the state, the Alexis constitution review committee identified a number of constitutional matters as being the ones which are uppermost in the minds of Grenadians for the purpose of having the constitution amended. The government has since agreed in principle to accept sixteen recommendations coming from the committee.
The constitutional issues are quite diversified and some people may still need time to fully appreciate the ramifications of these items.
Taking the time to get fully acquainted with the relevant issues is most important as when the time comes for the holding of the relevant referendum, people ought to know exactly for what they are voting. Making changes to a country’s constitution is a most important exercise and ought to be done with utmost deliberation and caution. Constitution review must be taken seriously by all as the constitution is the supreme law of the land and goes to the root of governance. A constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, outlines the structure and functions of the main organs of governance, seeks to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and in general demarcates the boundaries of the rule of law.
As a public service therefore, the opportunity was taken to publish a book entitled “From Independence to Constitution Review” which comprises a collection of articles which were published over the last year or so, by the author. These articles especially concentrated on constitutional matters. This is the third publication comprising a collection of published articles by the author. The first two publications which focused on other matters were “Aspects of Governance and Institutional Development in Grenada” and “Discussions on Governance, Social Issues and the Legal System in Grenada”. All publications are available from the author.
The constitutional matters which are contained in the recent publication include information on the key characteristics of an ideal constitution; the importance of having constitution review; the process of amending the constitution; fundamental rights and freedoms; name change for the state of Grenada; the distinction between a monarchy and a republic; proportional representation; the importance of having an official opposition; term limits for the Prime Minister; fixed terms for general elections; the CCJ versus the Privy Council; and the nature of a referendum, among others.
Whilst no date has as yet been set for the holding of a referendum, Grenadians are urged to take all opportunities to educate themselves on constitutional issues. It is anticipated that the referendum will be held during the latter part of this year. It must be remembered that Bills containing the recommended constitutional matters would first have to be approved by Cabinet. These bills may be approximately six or seven altogether.
Once approved, these bills would then have to be laid in the House of Representatives for a minimum of ninety clear days (not including Sundays and public holidays) during the First Reading Stage. They then have to be debated and passed by a two-thirds majority support of that House (being support from at least ten members) before they are forwarded to the Senate. It is only after the Senate has debated these bills and passed them by a simple majority that they can be submitted for referendum. The referendum must approve these bills by a two-thirds majority support of all voters who participate in the referendum.
For example, if the total number of eligible voters in Grenada amounts to 70,000 but only 15,000 participate in the referendum then the two-thirds majority must be assessed from the 15,000 being 10,000.