By J. K. Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
It is just not practical and proper to hold a ‘decent and successful’ constitutional referendum in Grenada in the near future; this position is consistent with undisputable evidences. It would therefore be very ‘irresponsible and outrageous’ to conduct the referendum contrary to the compelling circumstances on not to so do; and no goodwill and genuine persons should encourage and support this despicable behavior.
It must not be missed or be ignored that the case for constitution reform for Grenada is unique and justifiable. The case rests on the outstanding need for the people to ratify their constitutional sovereignty and dignity; and to meet this need requires a ‘meaningful and noble’ treatment. In addition is the need to embrace and endorse the enhancement of democratic governance in the country; and this feat cannot be realized by superficial amendments to the constitution. It would therefore be also very irresponsible and outrageous to so-called reform the constitution contrary to the principle and perspective for a meaningful and noble exercise. [A previous article on the Internet, “Grenada Constitution Reform: Putting Within Context” bears relevance].
The Constitution Reform Project which officially began in February 1985 has been contaminated, due to political expediency. The ‘attitude and approach’ of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee which was officially launched in January 2014 to complete the project is deplorable. Disagreements exist amongst the officials on the project, over the process and issues for the referendum. The environment for the reform is not suitable and conducive, with virtually no public education and people involvement. There is much apprehension by the people about the intentions of the powers-that-be for the Reform, and pathetically this is also with a noticeable passiveness and disinterest of the youths. Above all, effectively executing the Reform Project is crippled by institutional, legislative, management and technical deficiencies.
The political directorate of the Government is however very ambitious to hold the referendum this year, 2015. The determination to do so, despite contrary robust expressions, illuminates the grandiosity, bluff and hypocrisy on the part of the politicians. The politicians pursue their ‘foolhardiness and unscrupulousness’ with the rhetoric that the final decision on reforming the constitution, in terms of the proposals presented, rests on the electorate; but knowing very well that they control the means of the poll as well as the means of propaganda. Moreover, the politicians are aware that either a Yes vote or a No vote from the referendum is a win, in whatever form, for them; but this is with continued disadvantage for the people and lost to the nation, in the same way of realizing stark regrets after voting a political party into Government.
Governor-General, Her Excellency Dame Dr Cécile La Grenade, proclaimed in the October 2014 Throne Speech, “My Government affirms its commitment to constitutional reform… Having endorsed the recommendations of the Constitutional Advisory Committee, my Government confirms its intention to bring legislation to Parliament for Constitution Reform. Subject to parliamentary approval, my Government will put to the people, a referendum on several amendments to our constitution in the first quarter of 2015…”
Accordingly Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr Keith Mitchell, expressed in the 2015 National Budget which he presented in November 2014 that the “… budget provides resources to support a referendum in the first quarter of 2015…”. Then in his February 2015 Independence National Address, Hon. Mitchell signaled that “…this process must be completed this year otherwise it will subject itself to increasingly useless partisanship…”; the Mitchell-led Government has anticipated to have had the referendum completed since last year.
At this juncture of the ending of the first quarter of 2015, there is no concrete conclusion on the possibility of conducting a creditable referendum on Grenada’s 1974 Independence Constitution; instead there is much second-guessing in settling on a precise date for the poll. In fact, haphazard occurrences, shrouded moves and tremendous anxieties now feature the Reform Project, with also confusion and uncertainty about the source of the resources for the Referendum. It is not clear as to what is the form and the amount of the resources which is provided under the 2015 Budget, and how does such resources relate to the Trust Fund which was promoted in the 2014 Budget. Moreover, do the resources speak to the financial and technical assistance to be secured from the November 2014 Donors Conference for the Referendum which was held in Barbados?
The Head of the Advisory Committee, constitutional expert, Dr Francis Alexis QC, contends to have had extensive consultations with the people on Constitution Reform; it is instructive to note though that there has never been any substantial Working Document in circulation. He also boasts of achieving “reasonable compromise” for the Referendum and of presenting two reports to the Mitchell’s Cabinet; it is instructive to note though that the general public is not privy to or has no access to the full content of either of the reports.
Most offensive is that by itself the Cabinet-appointed Advisory Committee sets and interprets the criteria for its operation, determines the objectives and directions for the Reform and develops the format and rules for the referendum. Further; the Committee establishes itself as a ‘monopoly authority’ on the Reform Project, taking-on extra duties outside of its primary function of continuing the consultation process and advising the Government accordingly.
There are good reasons to have the life of the Advisory Committee terminated; the Committee has expired its time and has failed in its mandate. In fact, some critical tasks towards the constitutional referendum should not be in the domain of the Advisory Committee; this includes the drafting of the Amendment Bill(s), the accessing and allocating of funds, the electioneering process and electoral education. A new ‘instrument and mechanism’ must be instituted to undertake these noble roles and to bring some resemblance of integrity in the Reform Project.
Senior Legal Counsel in the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Focal Point of the Government on the Advisory Committee, Mr Robert Branch, at a press conference in August 2014 after the acceptance of the recommendations for the referendum of the committee by the Government, tries to explain and rationalize that the committee will spearhead the campaign for the referendum. This aspect must not be allowed; that is, the committee ‘exclusively’ should not seek “to persuade the public to vote in support of those subjects at the Referendum”, as also outlined by Dr Alexis in his official report of 9th July 2014. The conception is ludicrous especially when Dr Alexis has being showing contempt to the idea of an Opposing Team as a complement in stimulating intellectual and professional debate on the issues for the Referendum.
Constitutional lawyer, Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, represents the Grenada Bar Association on the fourteen-member Advisory Committee and it appears that he is now also the ‘proponent and mouthpiece’ for the committee and the Government concerning the Reform Project. Dr Joseph makes a very interesting disclosure on a dimension of activities of the committee, in his article “A New Constitution?” which can be found on the internet. His disclosure of the consideration by the committee of a “Constitution of Grenada (Restructuring) (Amendment) bill, 2015” should put all Grenadians and international democratic bodies on alert and disquiet. The bill “proposes that after certain amendments are approved in accordance with the referendum, the Attorney General would be entitled to reposition and renumber certain chapters and sections of the constitution for the purpose of having a proper sequence to its structure”.
Adequate arrangements should have already been advanced if the constitutional referendum is to take place this year, and this must be with the invoking of the Referendum Act and with the formulating of pertinent regulations. It is a frightening thought to know that even with the host of legal practitioners who are associated with the Reform Project, none has brought to the public’s attention the existence and/or the status of a Referendum Act in the 1990 Revised Laws of Grenada. In fact, Dr Alexis has refused to make mention, in his various presentations, of the need for the observance of special parliamentary procedures for the purposes of the referendum under the Constitution. There seems to be no concern that suspicions are inevitable when information is not forthcoming and the damage thereof can be irreparable, or never be redressed.
It is instructive that in Dr Alexis “Questions and Answers” paper on the Constitution of Grenada, prepared for the National Consultation on Consultation Reform which took place on 15th October 2014, when he addressed “who is in charge of a referendum?” no mention was made of the Referendum Act. It would be very unfortunate to have the darkness which marred the introduction of the constitution in February 1974 and its suspension in March 1979 prevails in the present efforts for Constitutional Reform. Having the people in ignorance by the arrogance of the powers-that-be cannot augur well for Civics Consciousness and National Development, and therefore all measures to mislead and misuse the people must be exposed.
The Referendum Act (Cap. 279) is to regulate the manner of holding a national referendum, and amongst pertinent requirements it calls for the establishment of a Referendum Commission. The Act does not have any subsidiary legislation from since its enactment in 1987 and so the powers-that-be should now see the wisdom to seize on the opportunity to develop under this Act the terms of reference and the code of conduct for all referenda. Particularly, in going forward, the regulations under Cap. 279 must also provide for a “constituent assembly” to govern the Reform Project, in light of the ‘commotions and conflicts’ with the Advisory Committee.
A Constituent Assembly gives a better democratic representation of the people for writing or for rewriting their constitution and it better isolates the politicians from the process. This set-up is important since any alteration of the constitution is principally outside the jurisdiction or prerogative of the Government. Also review on the Internet “Grenada Constitution Reform: A Referendum Law is Required!”, as well as “Grenada Constitution Reform: In Jeopardy!”