Constitution Review Committee Exercises Flexibility

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

It will be recalled that on 4 December 2015, six Constitution Amendment Bills were laid in the House of Representatives for their First Reading. Following this procedure, the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), conducted a series of seminars during the month of January 2016, for the purpose of training a number of groups. During this training exercise, a significant number of participants expressed concern that one of the 6 Bills entitled “Constitution of Grenada (Term of Office of Prime Minister, Fixed Date for Elections and Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition) (Amendment) Act 2015” contained too many items and that it has the tendency to confuse. As a consequence of this concern, the Committee exercised a measure of flexibility and made the necessary recommendation to Government which recommendation Government accepted.

Consequentially, on Tuesday, 2 February 2016, the targeted Bill was withdrawn in the House of Representatives and 3 separate Bills were substituted in its place. These Bills are Constitution of Grenada (Term of Office of Prime Minister) (Amendment) Act, 2016 which proposes that no person may be appointed as Prime Minister after that person has served as Prime Minister for 3 consecutive terms; Constitution of Grenada (Fixed Date for Elections) (Amendment) Act, 2016 which proposes that Parliament may authorize a fixed date for the holding of general elections instead of leaving that decision to be made by the Prime Minister; and Constitution of Grenada (Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition) (Amendment) Act, 2016 which proposes that if one political party wins all seats in any general elections, then the political party which obtained the highest number of votes with the exception of the winning party would be entitled to propose one of its members to become the Leader of the Opposition to sit in the House of Representatives.

The other Bills which are in their First Reading stage are Constitution of Grenada (Name of State) (Amendment) Act, 2015 which proposes that the name of the state should be Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique instead of just Grenada; Constitution of Grenada (Rights and Freedoms) (Amendment) Act, 2015 which seeks to significantly improve fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, lays down the constitutional basis for the recognition of gender equality and sets out general guidelines as to how the state should be governed.

Also, there are the Constitution of Grenada (Elections and Boundaries Commission) (Amendment) Act, 2015 which proposes to establish an Elections and Boundaries Commission comprising 2 members, each from the government and the main opposition with an independent Chairperson for the purpose of overseeing the electoral process — instead of a lone Supervisor of Elections who is always a public officer; Constitution of Grenada (Caribbean Court of Justice and Other Justice Related Matters) (Amendment) Act, 2015 which proposes among other things, that the Caribbean Court of Justice based in Trinidad should be the final court of appeal for Grenada instead of the Privy Council based in England.

The 8th Bill is the Constitution of Grenada (Restructuring) (Amendment) Act, 2015 which proposes that after amendments are made to the Constitution in accordance with section 39, the Attorney-General will be authorized to renumber and reposition different sections of the Constitution in order for it to have a better flow; however this restructuring process must be subsequently approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

Without counting Sundays and public holidays, the minimum 90 day period for all Bills before debates in the House of Representatives can begin but ends on 21 May 2016. It is only after debate and passage of those Bills in both Houses of Parliament, can voting on the Referendum be held by the Parliamentary Elections Office. Both the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee comprising a wide variety of organizations and the Government must be highly complimented for taking the constitution review process to this present advanced stage. The mere fact that the Committee and the Government exercised flexibility even at this late stage as exemplified above elucidates transparency and magnanimity.

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