By J. K. Roberts
By letter of 30 March 2015 addressed to Dr Francis Alexis QC, Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), the political leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Sen. Nazim Burke, advanced the position for the withdrawal of the NDC from the 14 member CRAC which was established in January 2014 to spearhead the consultative process leading to a constitutional referendum in Grenada. Chairman Alexis, who had headed a ‘failed’ similar endeavour in St Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2009, responded in a letter dated the following day, appealing for the NDC to “patriotically re-consider” its decision. The full text of both communications can be studied online: “NDC withdraws from Constitution Reform Advisory Committee” and “CRAC responds to NDC”.
Dr Alexis resorted to the Christian principle of Forgiveness and Reconciliation which is usually sermonized during the Holy Easter season, to evoke the spiritual consciousness of the NDC and the general public. What is not clear from his response though, is, what is the sin committed as well as who have sinned and against whom? Having no specific reference made by Alexis to any of the various complaints levelled by the NDC at the CRAC, then ‘mistrust, ignorance, speculations, propaganda and discrepancies’ continue to affect the consultative process. It is abhorrent and regrettable though, when already there are many actions and announcements by the CRAC which can be challenged for ‘substance and sincerity’ and that there are many ‘disappointing and disturbing’ experiences for the people, since the so-called consultations began; review “Grenada Constitution Reform: Emerging Embarrassments!”
The consultative process has been dubbed by Dr Alexis as an “open university” on the Constitution and it is supposed to be “transparent and credible, creating the atmosphere of consensus” for constitutional referendum. For such a critical national undertaking however, there is no ‘standard parameters’ for obtaining an objective evaluation of the operations of the CRAC, the engagement and sensitization of the people and of the progress towards the Referendum; and this has tainted the Reform Project, with the held view of a ‘conspiracy theory’ against the State. [See “Grenada’s proposed constitutional coup d’etat”, by John A. Rullow].
The NDC has twice, in April and August last year, threatened to disassociate itself from the “present construct” for the constitutional referendum, by highlighting the blatant abuses of the Constitution by the Government and the outrageous faults by the CRAC in fulfilling its mandate. With no uncertainty, the pertinent issues raised by the NDC resonate with the concerns of the people. The NDC anchors its withdrawal as a member on the CRAC in the determination that it “can be of no further practical assistance” to the CRAC, but has assured that it “fully endorsed the project scope and purpose”. The NDC has always maintained a commitment to reform the 1974 Independence Constitution; however, it has not been able to produce an ‘alternative way forward’ for the Reform Project and it would be interesting to behold the strategy to be employed in debating the Bills for the Referendum and in stimulating the population to attend the polls. [Again review the past article, “Grenada Constitution Reform : NDC speak up!”].
There has not been any comment from the other members of the CRAC on the withdrawal of the NDC, but it is even more instructive to realize that neither of them (and this also includes the NDC) has presented to the public an ‘independent position paper’ on Constitution Reform. The representative of ‘civil society / non-governmental organizations’, the Inter Agency Group of Development Organizations (IAGDO), has being expressing displeasure about the consultative process and had at least declared its ‘non-signing’ of the November 2014 report of the CRAC on the further recommendations from twelve to sixteen for the Referendum; see “Sandra refusing to sign onto document” and for “16 recommendations approved by Cabinet”.
The 11 April 2015 editorial of the Grenadian Voice newspaper thinks that the NDC should reconsider its position, emphasizing that “its voice is needed on the committee (CRAC) and not on the outside”. Criminal attorney, Anselm Clouden concludes that the withdrawal of the NDC is a “grievous error” and is fearful that it could negatively affect the planned referendum and any financial commitment from international bodies for the referendum; this has been published in the April 24, 2015 edition of the New Today newspaper. A legal luminary, Dr Lawrence Joseph, writes on 14 April 2015 on “The Negativism of Hard-line Approaches”, intimating that no side wins when it holds the view that principle is principle and also that there is the need for magnanimity so that any impending disaster may be avoided for one side or all sides; Joseph who recently accepts an advisory role to the Government under Keith Mitchell, including on matters of Constitution Reform, did not directly mention anything about the NDC but its withdrawal could have prompted his article.
In the Post-Cabinet press briefing on 31 March 2015, Deputy Prime Minister, Elvin Nimrod, having responsibility for legal affairs, unreservedly scoffed about the NDC’s withdrawal and confidently boasted that this will not have “any adverse effect” on the referendum which now has an October 2015 deadline. This new date is the third in the ‘ad hoc and awkward’ timing; unfortunately, the cancellations do not bring improvements and preparations for the Referendum but they generate confusions and disdains for this far-reaching sovereign undertaking. [Recall a previous article, “Grenada Constitution Reform: Date Set… But!”].
There are empirical evidences that the ‘attitude and approach’ as well as the ‘intention and focus’ for the Reform Project is despicable. There is no questioning that the Project must be revamped and refocused in the interest of the people and at the same time engendering a new paradigm of ‘democratic governance’ in the wider Caribbean. There are mounting reasons and outcries to abandon the current scheme of things and to adopt a respectable and reasonable mechanism. The CRAC itself was not legally constituted and the constitutional referendum has been embarked upon without the observance of the Referendum Act (Cap. 279), and with the rights and representation and recommendations of the people usurped by the ‘dictatorial attribute’ of the Government; review “Grenada Constitution Reform: The Referendum Mode”.
The most significant ‘moral and noble’ obligation at this juncture, is for the Government to patriotically reconsider the basis and rationale for Constitution Reform, the manner by which the CRAC was established and is being operated, and the integrity and impact of the Reform Project. This is principally in pursuant to section 38 of the Constitution to ensure the good government, peace and order in the nation, with insights also on its future. The need for the Government to redress the reputation of the Project is not merely from local concerns but it is also on diplomatic principles of international institutions such as the United Nations whose conventions Grenada ratifies and on whom it is depending for financial support for the constitutional referendum. [Review “Grenada Constitution Reform: Democracy and Finance”].
The Grenadian people are not acutely bonded with, or do not have a working knowledge of, their Constitution and neither the Reform Project. The unimaginable derision shown by the Government, along with the CRAC, to the people in their quest to cultivate civil consciousness and to construct a new political and governance regime, is worrying and calls for outright condemnation and defiance. Genuine efforts for Constitution Reform should see at least a constituent assembly to debate the issues, a fount panel to draft the pertinent Bills and a referendum committee to attend to the electoral task; all of these having the inclusion of Civil Society with a representation of the ‘unaccounted masses’ and the essence of people’s power.
Please, all well-meaning national stakeholders, patriotically re-consider the current status and trend towards the constitutional referendum; but indeed this must be led by the powers-that-be!