by Dr Lawrence A Joseph
In a democratic country such as Grenada, there is a real need to recognize that everyone cannot get everything that he or she wants. There is a need for some of us to exercise more tolerance, if ever we are really interested in seeing incremental progress being made in our country. Our attitudes must never display an “all or nothing” situation, which depicts the thought that “it must be my way or you take the highway”. This negative syndrome has been the bane of mankind for many centuries all over the world.
When one looks at the constitution reform process which is presently taking place in Grenada, one would rationally conclude that the process is democratic and transparent. Recent political declarations however seem to repudiate this thought. In fact the declarations seem to give credence to the thought that “It is must be done my way, or you take the highway!”
Following 3 previously failed attempts to have amendments made to Grenada’s Constitution in 1985, 2002 and 2010, the present Constitution Reform Advisory Committee was launched on 16 February 2014. From the onset this Committee had a very wide-based membership comprising 14 members representing various organizations including the National Democratic Congress, the New National Party, the Grenada Bar Association, religious, and other non-governmental organizations. Dr Francis Alexis, an eminent constitutional lawyer, was appointed as the Chairman.
Sometime in August 2014, the Committee, after conducting very wide-spread consultations all over the state, recommended 12 items to Government for its consideration. The report to government was signed off by all members of the Committee with the exception of 1 of the NGO representatives. The representative for the main opposition political party, and former Prime Minister, Mr Tillman Thomas also signed the report.
The Government accepted all 12 proposals. Whilst the main opposition party did not oppose any of those proposals, the view was expressed that more items could have been added. The Committee therefore held further consultations including a grand National Consultation at the Grenada Trade Centre in the later part of 2014. The Committee then gave further consideration to certain other items which came up during the process, and made further recommendations to government.
It followed that government accepted all recommendations which were submitted to it, by the Committee in principle. The Committee then went on to draft and submit to Government 7 bills which incorporated some 16 main items. Government subsequently accepted all the bills, except the 1 which dealt with the election and tenure of the Governor-General. The general reason for its non-acceptance was that having a debate in the Parliament as to whom or who should become Governor-General would tend to bring that office into disrepute. It must be remembered that the Committee is just an advisory Committee, and that Government would always have the final word as to what Constitution Amendment Bills would go forward to Parliament or not. This constitutes the process that we have.
Again the leadership of the main opposition party publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the Committee’s proposals to government. The leadership then proposed 5 further items which the leadership considered to be necessary to take through the constitutional process. These items are that a Prime Minister should not be allowed to be appointed as such for more than 2 consecutive terms; that there should be a fixed date for the holding of general elections; there should be a right to recall a parliamentary representative; there should be a system of proportional representation for electoral purposes; and there should be a new process to select a Governor-General.
Notwithstanding the above, 6 Constitution Amendment Bills were given their First Reading in the House of Representatives on Friday, 4 December 2015, a most historic day for Grenada. The bills may be referred to as the Name of State Amendment Bill; the Rights and Freedoms Amendment Bill; the Elections and Boundaries Commission Amendment Bill; the Caribbean Court of Justice Amendment Bill; the Fixed Term for Prime Minister, Fixed Date for Election and Ensuring a Leader of the Opposition Amendment Bill; and the Restructuring Amendment Bill.
Whilst some may consider the opposition items to be worthy of consideration, the fact is that we have gone through a democratic and transparent process already. The Committee had even bent over backwards to offer accommodation. The Bills, which had their First Reading in Parliament represent a significant improvement to the Constitution. The time will come when other constitutional items may be given further consideration, as constitutional reform is always an ongoing process. The situation must never be “it must be my way or you take the highway!!”