by J K Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
No word on constitution reform was mentioned by Prime Minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, in his national address to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of Grenada’s political independence, under the theme “striving towards our destiny with faith and courage as one people”, on 7 February 2016 at the National Cricket Stadium. This must have come as a surprise to many persons, and would generate speculations and confusions on the status and way forward for the Constitution Reform Project. Is Dr Mitchell weary of the misconceptions and miscalculations on the constitutional referendum to be held, and/or has he abandoned the ‘anti-people’ thrust towards the referendum? Whatever the case, it is important to have the ‘no word on the reform’ accounted for, especially if the “unity of purpose” which is highlighted in his Address is to be of honour.
Maybe Prime Minister Mitchell is disappointed and has lost hope with the modus operandi of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), which is headed by constitutional lawyer Dr Francis Alexis QC, and with the pace for the constitutional referendum. At this stage, Mitchell may also be pondering on the failed similar Constitution Reform in St Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2009, under the chairmanship of Alexis and is weighing his options for success in Grenada. This is a reasonable proposition based on the various critical remarks levelled at the CRAC, as well as the many outstanding prerequisites to be met for a ‘credible and rewarding’ referendum. The ‘attitude, intention and approach’ of the powers-that-be for constitution reform has always been in question, and this also relates to the manner by which CRAC was constituted and as being reflected in its ‘cracked-up condition’. Read “Grenada Constitution Reform: CRAC Ultra Vires” and “Grenada Constitution Reform: Referendum in Question.”
Discrepancies have been observed between the political executive of Dr Mitchell and the Advisory Committee (CRAC). Under the caption “Who is in Charge?” and featuring Dr Francis Alexis, Dr Keith Mitchell and Sen. V Nazim Burke, the 26 September 2014 publication (Vol. 5 No. 46) of the weekly The New Today newspaper, reported that Mitchell’s NNP (New National Party) administration is not on board with the decision taken by the Alexis-led committee to hold the National Consultation on 15 October 2014, to deal with concerns raised by the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) on constitutional reform; the NDC is headed by Burke. It said that Mitchell indicated that the Committee has already submitted a report to the government, and a decision had already been taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to present 12 issues to the population for the referendum, planned for early next year (2015). Read about the circumstances surrounding the national consultation “Grenada Constitution Reform: In Jeopardy!”
The most telling considerations for the Prime Minister should be coming from the Reform Project Document of the United Nations Development Programme, “UNDP to Support Referendum on Constitutional Reform in Grenada.” Particular reference is thus, “Operationally, timing is an additional risk that poses a real threat to the successful outcome of the Project. The Prime Minister had articulated the need to have the constitutional reform exercise completed by June 2015, but the magnitude of the preparatory tasks attendant to the referendum was highlighted by both the UNDP/DPA and NAM missions, and it has since generally been acknowledged by all actors that more time is needed; a referendum is more likely to be feasible by the last quarter of 2015 or early first quarter of 2016 at the outermost limit. This is particularly critical because election cycles in the Caribbean tend to intensify 2 years prior to general elections and Grenada’s general elections are constitutionally due in early 2018. If the process is delayed substantially, there is a risk that the lines between the constitutional reform exercise and a national election will start to blur.”
A ‘responsible and responsive’ Prime Minister should be concerned about the soundness of the public education on the constitutional (Amendment) Bills, the institutional capacity and integrity of the electoral machinery and about the quality of debates on the various pieces of proposed legislations, within the grossly limited timeframe for the holding of the constitutional referendum. Pertinent issues are still being explored and experimented with. In fact, regulations for the proper conduct of the referendum, including guidelines for voting, are yet to be finalized and laid in Parliament. There is no White Paper of the Bills and no sample Ballot Papers for acquaintance and appreciation by the electorate. Moreover, as a case in point, after having the first reading of the 6 Bills in Parliament in December 2015, with the anticipation to begin official debate following the 90-days constitutional requirement in March 2016, there are new developments which would cause the latter date to be shifted to May 2016, due to the withdrawal and substitution of one of the Bills in February 2016.
Conforming to the February 2013 Elections Manifesto’s theme “We Will Deliver !” of the NNP, which gave the party a clean sweep at the polls for the second time, Dr. Mitchell launched in January 2014 the CRAC, with the goal to have a referendum on the Grenada Constitution within a year. Subsequently, there have always been strong mentions of reaffirmation of the commitments of the Government, with pertinent updated information and motivational drives, on the constitution reform; but the exception and/or the disregard comes this year in 2016 for such a worthy undertaking. There must be some clear reason(s) for the omission; whether it is a displeasure or an oversight on the part of the Prime Minister.
On Independence Day in February 2014, Prime Minister Mitchell proclaimed, “After forty years, it is time to wean ourselves of some of the remaining vestiges of colonialism — and so this is a fitting year for constitutional reform. That is why we have set up a National Advisory Committee on Constitution Reform (CRAC). Yes, fellow citizens, the time is right for us to have our home-grown Constitution. Let us seize the moment as we prepare for a referendum on our new Constitution later this year (2014). We call on our development partners to support us in this quest to refine our national identity within a more suitable framework for our long-term development.”
In his message on the 41st anniversary of Grenada’s Independence in 2015, Mitchell states, “Later this year (2015), we aim to stake a fresh claim to our sovereignty. The aim of constitutional reform is set to bring Grenada into the modern era, and to deepen the rights of its people.
We believe that this process must be completed this year (2015) otherwise it will subject itself to increasingly useless partisanship. Consequently, we encourage all our citizens to participate in the referendum, and set the context for the future of this nation.”
The pundits on political science would identify the answer for the omission of a statement on the constitutional referendum in the Prime Minister’s 2016 Independence Address, by making reference to his 2015 Independence Address. That is, there is the likelihood of an early general elections in Grenada and thus, the focus now of Dr. Mitchell is more about promoting the benefits (‘real or apparent’) from his three-year austerity Home-Grown Structural Adjustment Programme which is being supported by the International Monetary Fund. This sentiment can be validated, for example when reading on the Internet, the article “Peter Wickham’s Grenada !” by Randal Robinson, Public Relations Officer of the NDC; the article highlights a report of the regional pollster/political analyst, showering credits to the NNP. Also, view:
It is quite reasonable to say also, that Prime Minister Mitchell is pained to secure finance for the constitutional referendum. An initial estimate for the referendum was given as 2.5 million Eastern Caribbean dollars; not only is the source for the fund of a concern but the amount seems to be done without proper cost-analysis. The sum of $100,000 was earmarked in the 2013 National Budget to complete all the preparatory work on the consultations and arrangements for the referendum, with the expectation of some complementary external support. Then the 2014 Budget indicated that the Government will also 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 to be held in the same year 2014. Again in 2015, Finance Minister Dr Mitchell discloses that the 2016 budget provides $1.5 million to support a referendum in the first half of 2016.
The financial predicament of the Keith Mitchell Government to cover the costs for the constitutional referendum becomes more revealing in the article of the consultant to the Government on Constitution Reform, Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, “On The Road To Referendum”. Joseph states that as a consequence of the (NDC) party’s action, the government is likely to lose substantial funding support for the reform process from the United Nations Development Programme. This institution would be very wary of giving funding where it appears that government and opposition are not united on the process. The government therefore, may well have to “bite the bullet” and provide its own funding in excess of $1.5 million for public education and for the holding of the referendum. He had also given notice in the article that the referendum is targeted for 26th April 2016, and brushed aside pertinent criticisms.
Notwithstanding, the Grenadian population continues to be left in ignorance about the contributors and management, and use of the Trust Fund for the constitutional referendum. The powers-that-be (Government and CRAC) is challenged to follow the ‘standards and steps’ of the UNDP in presenting the allocations of its pledged 200,000 United States dollars, under the Project Document on the referendum. Monies collected with “goodwill”, especially in the name of the people to promote Democracy and Development must never be abused by partisan influences for narrow interests. Read “Grenada Constitution Reform: United Nations Position” and “Grenada Constitution Reform: Democracy and Finance.”
Indeed the pronouncement by the NDC for a No-Vote on all of the constitution Amendment Bills, since the party is not prepared to support the plan of the NNP Government to change the Constitution of Grenada in the manner that they (government) intend to, and the then cancelling of the launch of the UNDP’s Project Document which was scheduled for 4 December 2015, would have had a ‘panic impact’ on Prime Minister Mitchell, leaving him dumbfounded on the situation. Read “NDC says No to Constitution Reform”.
It must be embarrassing and worrying for Prime Minister Dr Mitchell, to realize that to have the constitutional referendum in the first half of 2016, is once again impossible. This is about the 4th time that different dates have been set for the referendum, since it was first scheduled for 10 February 2015; but the dates had to be changed. It is now becoming more and more clear that even to have the referendum any time during this year will not be favourable nationally, and as a matter a fact, no referendum may take place before the next general elections in Grenada. However, Civil Education must be encouraged and executed towards lifting the consciousness of the population, and at the same time, a genuine and appropriate mechanism must be instituted and implemented to complete the Reform Project of which everyone will be very proud then. Search Google for the articles “Grenada Constitution Reform: Date Set …But!” and “Grenada Constitution Reform: Patriotically Reconsider Please!”.