By J K Roberts
The ‘attitude and approach’ of the powers–that–be regarding the Grenada Constitution Reform Project has always been in question, and this is largely responsible for the non-realization of the ‘reform’ which has been necessitated since the introduction of the Independence Constitution in February 1974. The predicament is most evident in the final phase of the project towards a constitutional referendum, which has been started in January 2014 and mandated to a Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC).
The Government of Dr Keith Mitchell’s New National Party has embarked on the constitutional referendum without a well established and promoted strategic Action Plan, and unfortunately this situation has not been corrected by the CRAC which is headed by Dr Francis Alexis QC and with him having the expertise and experience as the chairperson of a similar reform process in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009. This Plan would incorporate the various components of the Reform Project, sequentially featured, with procedural guidelines and performance indicators to be effected within a practical time frame and adequate resource capacity. The absence of this critical requirement results in the much haphazardness, disarrays, deficiencies, discrepancies and awkwardness which marks the project; and this in turn puts at risk the success of the referendum and the satisfaction to be gotten from the reform(s). [Review the previous article, “Grenada Constitution Reform : The Concrete Path”, which raises useful concepts and mechanics to be adopted for the serious execution of the Project, within a principled, democratic and legislative framework].
The ‘success’ of the constitutional referendum, in terms of a YES-vote for the reform in its genuine context or in terms of a NO-vote for the reform in its distorted format, depends on the integrity and credibility of the process. The process of the Reform Project is critical, since it relates to and impacts on the level of awareness, interest and participation of the population; the level of embrace, synergy and consensus of the main stakeholders; the level of consultation, knowledge and debate on the referendum amendment bills; the level of preparedness and operations of the electoral machinery for the polls; the level of confidence and soundness of the electorate for the voting; the level of financial and technical support to be offered by international democratic bodies; and no doubt, the level of effectiveness of the CRAC in fulfilling its mandate and the effectiveness of the special parliamentary sittings for the Bill(s).
It must be iterated that a referendum on a public policy of far-reaching national benefits into the future is beyond the extent of merit of a general elections on narrow partisan political pursuits; thus objectivity and sobriety must be premier and not corrupted by revels and rhetoric. A referendum can be considered to be the most excellent opportunity in the exercise of Participatory Democracy and People’s Power, and a referendum on the Constitution is the ‘noblest referendum’ that a country can hold. However, the glory from a referendum only comes when the referendum is viewed and handled by the politicians and the people correctly and meaningfully with respect. Since a referendum is about the people and should not be about partisan politics, then the process must be accessible, inclusive and transparent.
It is striking that the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has not been able to present a roadmap for the constitutional referendum. This is regrettable, since the people is looking for positive direction and hope on this sovereign undertaking, despite the cynicism held of politicians. In its protest about the Reform Project, the NDC seems to be concerned about the contents for the referendum much more than about the process. The point must be taken though, that a structured and coordinated process will generate substantive contents and outcomes, favourable to all stakeholders and sectors (local and otherwise). For the NDC to proclaim or to demonstrate that a process would be established upon its return to political power, provides an indictment on its leadership and patriotic role.
There is no good reason for the Government to err with the execution of the Reform Project and for the Opposition to be indecisive on formulating a means for the constitutional referendum; that is, the Grenadian people should not have any gripes about the process and about the motives of the politicians. Extensive intellectual and institutional work producing tremendous proposals, has been undertaken throughout the Caribbean on constitutional reform and Grenada’s own Professor of Jurisprudence, the late Simeon CR McIntosh, has many publications on the issue. A significant contribution was made by the Organization of American States (OAS) in coordination with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the form of an organized conference in Barbados in January 2002 on the topic, “Constitutional Reform in the Caribbean”, as part of the OAS “Democratic Forum Series”, and this was hosted in conjunction with the University of the West Indies (UWI) with about 60 diverse participants.
The official document from the regional 2002 Constitutional Reform Forum, which can be obtained on the OAS publications website, states in part that “many participants attributed the disconnection between citizens and constitutional reform processes to the top-down nature of the process in many countries, in which a government appoints what it deems to be a representative commission and mandates it to gauge the views of society and incorporate its findings into a report to be considered by parliament. . . . this as a legacy of the old colonial Royal Commission procedure. . . . most politicians do not want political reform but view the commissions as a way to go through the motions. . . . citizens do want to have a say in the process. . . . The people are very keen to be involved in the issues that directly affect their lives and threaten their well-being. . . . but they see the process as ineffective and don’t perceive the commission reports as reflecting their points of view or their experience”. Does this apply to Grenada?
The Caribbean Constitution Reform Forum discussed with different perspectives, a range of political, governance / Local Government, and integration issues. It endorses the establishment of a constitutional reform resource center at UWI, possibly supported by the international community; the center would house archives of constitutional reform commission reports and other pertinent materials, and promote resource sharing, cooperation and technical training on constitutional reform throughout the Caribbean. The need for national legislations on the Charter of Civil Society enacted by CARICOM in 1997, to facilitate the role of Civil Society in the Constitutional Reform Process and in Governance was stressed.
The call for a Constituent Assembly and a Fount Committee as being pivotal in the process towards the constitutional referendum, is consistent with the report from the conference on Constitutional Reform in the Caribbean. A constituent assembly has been internationally accepted as the best democratic means for generating and debating the issues for the formation or for the re-formation of a constitution, and the fount committee is relevant to aid in the technical drafting and analyzing of the referendum bill(s) and this will be guided by various options or models of political constructs and governance reforms studied.
Around the time of the 2002 Caribbean Constitution Forum, Grenada enjoyed assistance from the OAS and the UNDP for its Reform Project; however, the objectives and expectations were not fully met. Had Grenada implemented the lessons learnt; particularly, had it provided the multi-annual phased public education with financial commitments for the completion of the Project, as has been recommended, then it would have now being in a comfortable position for a successful constitutional referendum.
The UNDP is again willing to assist Grenada with its Reform Project; but definitely, UNDP will have genuine concerns about the process and make reference to its past inputs. UNDP has being assessing the present situation and highlighting the challenges, risks and precautions involved. The advices given on “best practices”, including the responsibility to adhere to the policies and principles of engagement of UNDP are in the domain of the Government and the CRAC for consideration. Without a clear feasible process for the Project, it will be disturbing and futile to expend treasured time, effort and money.