by J K Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
The greatest critique and regret about the institutionalization of Grenada’s February 1974 Independence Constitution surround the mode and mood by which this was done. The epoch was marked by darkness in every front, throughout Grenada; and this darkness presents a sharp contrast to the manner and experience by which independence was attained in the other countries of the Caribbean Commonwealth. It was physical darkness with widespread social, industrial and economic unrests in the country; psychological darkness with intense confusions, fears, stresses and misgivings of the people; and philosophical darkness with much ignorance on the principles of the process for the occasion, on the contents of the constitution and on the substance of the independence. Spiritual darkness was also apparent, as the major religious bodies refused to participate in the inaugural independence celebrations, in their disgust with the dark situation present then.
The deep darkness that penetrated the process for the institutionalization of Grenada’s Independence was cultured in a political environment of power struggle for supremacy and in which there has been disdain for the people in the self-determination for their country. The main players were the non-parliamentary opposition New Jewel Movement (NJM) party of Maurice Bishop, the autocratic governing Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) of Eric Gairy, and the bourgeois and affluent parliamentary opposition Grenada National Party (GNP) of Herbert Blaize. Despite the general desire by the people for the evolution of Grenada to ‘total independence status’ from colonial Great Britain, there was a host of genuine concerns about the escalation of atrocities, corruptions and of the abuse of power with impunity, by the powers-that-be, resulting from the attainment of more autonomy and with the absence of proper structure to address the ills and malpractices in governance.
The leaderships of the GULP and the GNP demonstrated consensus and collaboration for political independence; both parties had representations in the discussions and ceremonies held with Britain. Although the people were not in favour of the fashion and timing for the independence, the conspiracy by the politicians against them prevailed and this festered into ‘lasting resentments’ of the people. Whilst Gairy’s GULP expressed superficial and symbolic interests for Independence, there is no evidence that Blaize’s GNP provided concrete materials or alternative mechanisms to have a progressive outcome of the independence. Bishop’s NJM however was more sympathetic to the concerns and cries of the people and was able to articulate their positions and sentiments and to rally them in various forms of protests against the proposed independence; the protests continued and exploded with the March 1979 Revolution which suspended the constitution and introduced People’s Laws.
The circumstances which darkened the institutionalization of Grenada’s independence generated profound political polarity in the country, with clouds of darkness and disgrace still overhanging today. After 41 years and counting of the noble quest of the people to correct the abnormality in the process towards the independence, to reconcile the grievances caused, to write and legislate their own constitution and to establish their sovereign nation, there is the sad reality of ‘dark ploys’ by the powers-that-be, to shackle the minds and liberty of the people and to shatter their dignity and dreams, even in this modern time. Schemes are afoot to corrupt the rationale and focus for constitutional reform, and thereby placing the political governance of the country once again in dire straits. [Review the article, “Grenada Constitution Reform: Putting within Context!”, which gives an appreciation of the need and the guide for the Reform Project].
The Constitution Reform Project as presently executed is a one-sided affair and reflects the abhorrent features of the institutionalization of the constitution in 1974. The whole episode is about the imposition and dominance of the privileged few with political clout on the general population, with measures of gross arrogance. This situation is indeed obscene, especially with global enlightenment on the principles of democracy and the role of civil society. There are two main sources of strength for the population, which must not be jeopardized but which must be optimized and defended vehemently; these are the entrenched provisions for a referendum on the constitution and the stance of the United Nations (UN) for a ‘meaningful and successful’ referendum. [Also review the article, “Grenada Constitution Reform: United Nations Position,” which makes reference to the superb technical advices and financial contributions by the UN to afford Good Governance].
The one-sided affair of the Reform Project is typified by the unilateral decision of the powers-that-be to select a special interest group, purported to represent the views and wishes of the wide and diverse sectors of the country, to spearhead the process towards the constitutional referendum. The special group, referred to as the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), sets its own agenda and criteria on the selection of the issues for the referendum, as well as on the measures and methodologies for the referendum; and this is done even without giving serious recognition to pertinent provisions under a Referendum Law, as highlighted in the article “Grenada Constitution Reform: The Referendum Mode.”
It is insults added to injury when the unilaterally drafted referendum (amendment) Bills will be so-called debated in an ‘unbalance and inequitable’ configuration. At present is a mono-party manipulated Parliament which is in network with the drafters of the Bills and the Executive of the Government; there is no official opposition and neither are there independent conscientious voters. Even if there was a resemblance of political bipartisanship on the Bills, there remains the essential missing link for the engagement, understanding and representation of the people. Whilst politicians and lobbies would be entertained and accommodated, the grassroots and unaccounted masses do not have the opportunity, forum and resources to voice what are affecting them and to make inputs accordingly. Moreover, the austere socio-economic temperature hovering in the country, place tremendous constraints on effective sensitization and active participation of the people, and in turn they would not be able to make sound judgment on the referendum. Many issues of national policies and development plans are competing for the attention of the people, which also puts them in a confused state.
It is the general notion that the loopholes and deficiencies in the constitution have been by design, in order to protect the powers-that-be, and that a reforming of the constitution must gear to a paradigm shift for the empowerment of the people. Another significant gripe is about the endorsement of the constitution; that is, the constitution was not voted-on and legislated by the people. The one-sided affair of the Reform Project will not give redress on these critical and legitimate concerns. The people are being hoodwinked into a referendum which is predetermined by and is at the pleasure of the powers-that-be, simply to accomplish its narrow interests and to maintain and fortify the status quo. The piecemeal arrangement for the reform, with various amendments Bills for example, will not cause the long outstanding people’s ratification and parliamentary officialdom, with respect to all the provisions of the whole constitution; and thus this format will frustrate further the people in their noble quest to have sovereign ownership and pride of an indigenous constitution.
A prominent person in the unilateral dimension of the Reform Project is constitutional lawyer Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, who has being playing various roles in the sequence of events. Joseph is a political affiliate of the ruling New National Party (NNP) of Dr Keith Mitchell, and a consultant to the Government on legal issues including the drafting of the referendum (amendment) Bills. He represented the Grenada Bar Association on the Reform Committee (CRAC) and has being asserting credence in the Government’s decisions on the reform, in his weekly internet-circulated articles. In an article, “Petty Politics in the Bar Association?”, Joseph argues that the Bar is politically divided on the issues for the constitutional referendum. Emanating from this article is the challenge for the constituent-members of the CRAC to present publicly independent positions on the referendum; recall the article “Grenada Constitution Reform: National Stakeholders Declare your Stance!”
The CRAC has not had a reputable impression on the people, who have being calling for better ‘attitude and approach’ on the Reform Project; but the calls have been ignored by the powers-that-be. Grenadians must seek to grasp the nature of the game being played on them and to ensure that their ‘one-minute voting’ overrides the ‘one-sided affair’ by the powers-that-be, at the referendum polls; and thereby registering real People’s Power.