Grenada Constitution Reform: United Nations Position

By J K Roberts 

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been associated with the Grenada Constitution Reform Project, in one form or another over the past years. Together with the Organisation of American States (OAS), the UNDP has provided financial and technical assistance and has also opened to Grenada international experts in constitutional law and legal reforms, as well as mechanisms for good governance and participatory democracy with the inclusion of civil society. However, the advances and benefits to be had from the facilitation of the UNDP have not been maximized, due to the failures of the powers-that-be to cultivate serious ‘attitudes and approaches’ but they having determinations to entrench ‘autocratic privileges’ with impunity.

At this critical juncture of the Reform Project, the UNDP is not merely a facilitator but it is now a partner with Grenada towards a constitutional referendum which is under the coordination of a Cabinet-appointed Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) whose mandate and modus operandi have being in question; and the UNDP has pledged to draw on all available resources within the overall UN system to assist the Grenadian people in this noteworthy venture. The position of the UNDP was established at a Donors Conference held in Barbados on 19 November 2014, which looked at ways to lend support to Grenada, particularly in the areas of legislative drafting, electoral support and capacity building; review “Grenada Constitutional Reform Project – International Development Partner Meeting” and for “Prime Minister Seeks International Assistance For Constitution Reform”, for highlights from the conference.

The Government Information Service (GIS) reported that Prime Minister Keith Mitchell was heartened by the positive responses received from the international community been represented at the Donors Conference, as it relates to support for the reform process, and he expected that the local committee (CRAC) will be able to source solid financial and technical support well in advance of the referendum scheduled for mid-2015. The time is already here, but there has not been further reporting on any support received, on a fixed date for the polls and on any referendum bill debated in Parliament. In fact, the general public remains unaware on the conditions and considerations to be met by the Government and/or by the CRAC, as may be defined by the UNDP in its pledged partnership for the reform(s). Unanswered questions on the referendum continue to rise.

It has been most unfortunate and disgusting when Legal Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod misled the Honourable House of Representatives on 19 June 2015, and by extension misleads the Grenadian people, by saying that the date proposed for the referendum had been changed three consecutive times already and this was only merely to accommodate a broader cross-section of the public and to give an opportunity to provide much more information and education to the people. The Minister made the statement, even after defending the status and the composition of the CRAC by praising the work of the CRAC and claiming that it is “as wide and as diverse” and that it was “carefully chosen to make sure that the interest of all is being represented.” Moreover, Nimrod who is the Deputy Prime Minister, failed to express that the need for more participation, consultation and preparation for the referendum has been advised by the UNDP and that UNDP is calling also for a better organized and formalized mechanism involving civil society to accomplish this noble exercise. Indeed, the UNDP does not want to compromise its core principles, to err on process and to taint the referendum; review the previous article, “Grenada Constitution Reform: Process is Critical!

Prime Minister Mitchell, who is also the Minister of Finance and Energy, had earmarked the sum of $100,000 in the 2013 Budget to complete all the preparatory work for a constitutional referendum and expected some complementary external support. He then announced in the 2014 Budget that the Government will arrange for the establishment of a Trust Fund into which the business community, the general public as well as international organizations can contribute to help cover the costs of the referendum intended for 2014. With Constitutional Reform now a recurrent issue in the yearly Budget Statements, the 2015 budget provides resources to support a referendum in the first quarter of 2015; but this was declared without revealing the source(s) of the resources, the type of resources, the allocations for use of the resources and the management and status of the Trust Fund, as well as without revealing the reason(s) for the postponement of the ‘expected time’ for the referendum.

The actions and utterances (or lacks thereof) of the Government on the constitutional referendum have being engendering ‘uncertainty and scepticism’ about the referendum. Pertinent information presented lacks accuracy, consistency and seriousness, and the entering of Grenada into party campaigning for the next general elections is putting more stress for the integrity of the referendum. The delay for the conducting of the referendum is mainly due to the unavailability of sufficient funds to foot the almost one and a half million Eastern Caribbean dollars bill for the remaining tasks for the polls, as the Government is not concerned about the substance of the contents and process for the referendum. Apart from friendly parties such as the European Union and China from which the Government may receive monetary contributions, the Government is strongly relying on finances from the UNDP which is cautiously analysing the institutional environment for the polls and the educational empowerment of the people on the issues, to ensure value for its monies and efforts.

The Government cannot take credit for organizing the Donors Conference. The conference resulted from the attraction of the UNDP and other international democratic bodies to the keenness and vibrancy of the Grenadian people at a national consultation on the Reform which was held on 15 October 2014 by the CRAC; the article “Grenada Constitution Reform : In Jeopardy!” gives a relevant background to this consultation. Another so-called national consultation(s) sponsored by the UN-Women was held in January 2015 at three different locations country-wide. Minister Nimrod in his political bluff seems to be oblivious to the fact that no reports have been placed to Parliament and to the people on either of those national consultations (October 2014 and January 2015). He also seems to be absent-minded on the need to develop and debate proper regulations under a pertinent Referendum Law to guide the process for the referendum. There is no doubt that the UNDP is noting those deficiencies, and its conclusions will be confirmed by the major fundamental flaws that marks the making of national laws in Grenada and especially now with the absence of an Official Opposition.

The presence and pledge of the UNDP should bring better focus and format for the constitutional referendum and enhance the profile and process of the Reform Project. The UNDP aims to participatory, inclusively and transparently develop well-drafted constitutional amendment bills based on broad-based public input and to organize a referendum in a credible and transparent manner with a strong voter information campaign and the voter population participating in the referendum well informed on the different referendum bills and related issues; this requiring pertinent trainings on Best Practices, including management and monitoring techniques.

Promoting the recognition and respect for human rights is pivotal for the UN and in this era it places emphasis on the choices of women. In light of the “Open Letter To The Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee” in August 2014 from the Director of Caribbean Alliance for Equality, on the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the new constitution; the United States of America Supreme Court’s ruling in 26 June 2015 on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights; and a July 2015 ‘solidarity and defensive’ article, “Grenada Human Rights Organization on Same Sex Marriage”, many Grenadians would be wary about the influence of the UN on the referendum process. However, the admonition to “Forget the US Supreme Court: Tremendous, Unprecedented Victory for Family at UN”, written 10 July 2015 by Steve Weatherbe, should be somewhat reassuring.

The position and partnership of the UNDP for the reform(s) should not be to advocate and dictate on the moral values and sovereign interests of the Grenadian people; however, UNDP is welcome in promoting the rights of the people to know, to engage and to decide. Recall “Grenada Constitution Reform: Democracy and Finance” which warns against the use of monies to thwart the historical context for the Reform.

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