by JK Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
Caribbean Constitutional Law luminary, Dr Francis Alexis QC, chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) recently published “Process in Constitution Reform: Forms and Objects”. The publication can be regarded as a theoretical lecture, in the Open University forum which has been flaunted by Dr Alexis with moves to sensitize and educate all stakeholders on a constitutional referendum for the reform(s). The article “Grenada Constitution Reform: Open University!”, speaks on the concept and questions the extent to which proper opportunities have being afforded the people to participate meaningfully in the Reform Project under the direction of CRAC, with proven goodwill and in good faith by the powers–that–be.
The scholastic paper by Dr Alexis may have been produced in response to the concerns of persons including Civil Society Organizations, the main opposition political party and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the process for constitutional reform in Grenada. Alexis made a number of citations from international sources, but the context and the circumstance of the illustrations presented are incongruent to the local case for Grenada. Moreover, it seems that the paper is aimed at giving clarification, justification and verification for the ‘attitude and approach’ by the powers–that–be, on the execution of the Reform Project. However, it is misleading to claim that the process for the reform(s) in Grenada, “reflects the key realities of such a process” for a ‘noble constitutional’ undertaking, when in fact the actual occurrences are at variance even with some of the general positions raised in the paper. The articles “Grenada Constitution Reform: Process Is Critical” and “Grenada Constitution Reform: The Concrete Path”, impart pertinent guidelines on the striking defects.
Dr Alexis’ public thesis lacks ‘professional and practical’ impartiality; particularly, the views promoted are ‘narrow and ambiguous’. The thesis fails to accentuate the rationales for constitution reform in Grenada and to pinpoint specific recommendations for establishing a process towards this end and thereby also engendering the “broadest national consensus on the agenda of reform”. That is; in the absence of a definitive prescription by Grenada’s Constitution to direct “what form the process should take”, and in light of the pronouncement by the powers-that-be for a piecemeal ‘lifelong phases’ of constitutional reforms, Alexis should have been firm to have the ‘form and procedure’ for the reforms clearly spelt-out and provided-for in the initial phase. Alexis therefore, seems to be comfortable with the state of affairs as prevails, and seems to enjoy defensively blaming and decrying the people on their concerns about the ‘content and substance’ of the process; and particularly, he has being trying to devalue the importance of a Constituent Assembly format. Indeed, great efforts are on to maintain the CRAC and the Government as the ‘dominant group’ in the “monopoly on the question what should be the process”; recall “Grenada Constitution Reform: A One-Sided Affair!”
The significant point must be reiterated that the case for addressing Grenada’s 1974 Independence Constitution is ‘unique and imperative’; and this deserves a process of sobriety and integrity, with a recognition of the ‘nobility and sovereignty’ of the people. The quest for constitutional reform(s) in Grenada is not ‘simple and ordinary’ as the examples used by Dr Alexis; and so prudence must be exercised to ensure that the notion that ‘a good success is not directly correlated with a good process’ does not take prominence to lead the people settling for mediocrity. The consequence of a ‘shady and shoddy’ process on an ‘unsuspecting and uninformed’ people would be ‘devastating and ugly’, especially when it is chaotic and difficult to revise or to repeal the result. For Grenada, the benefits of a well-intended and well-executed process in constitution reform go far beyond the so-called success of the constitutional referendum, since the process should also gear to enhancing political consciousness and national pride and to fostering civic education. Also, read “Grenada Constitution Reform: Putting Within Context”, which highlights the need for ratifying the Constitution and for aligning it to good governance principles with hallmarks of transparency, accountability and equity.
It would be disappointing and shocking, or even maybe revealing and confirming, that Dr Alexis could be condoning and conceding to the process by which Grenada’s constitution was attained and instituted, and/or that he could give credence and consent to the imposition of a constitution by a military dictatorship. It seems that Alexis is conveniently dismissing or is conveniently forgetting the outstanding case for Grenada to undergo ‘radical and worthy’ reforms; redefining and refocusing the Constitution, as well as providing for the occasion of the abuse of power by the officials of governance. One may also get the impression that Alexis disdains the present constitutional requirements for effecting the reforms, as well as that he is repugnant to the role, participation and sentiments of the people in the process for the reforms. However, it must never be mistaken that Democracy and Referendum are about the people and that a constitutional referendum is the highest expression of people’s Power and Will. This People’s Power is not delegated to parliamentary representatives; they do not have a ‘blanket mandate’, even when a political party holds all seats in the Parliament, to wish and decide independently for the people.
It should always be a foremost consideration that the national constitution is the foundation of the rule of law and is referred to as the supreme law of the land. There are ‘deeply entrenched’ provisions in the constitution for the purpose of safeguarding the rights and freedoms of persons, safeguarding the assets, patrimonies and institutions of the nation and safeguarding against the abuses of power; and these safeguards must be cherished. A key query then would be, who and what determined the deeply entrenched provisions? A key guide though would be, the non-inclusion of a provision in the constitution of another country does not follow for an ‘automatic and necessary’ non-inclusion of the same provision in the constitution of a local country; every country has a peculiar history, identity, philosophy and developmental drive. It is absurd for Dr Alexis to make reference to delinking from the Privy Council without a referendum. “Grenada Constitution Reform: The CCJ Issue” asserts that there is obsession by the regional political directorates for securing a stranglehold on the people and establishing a kingdom of their own, with a premature accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); also, review “Grenada Constitution Reform: Executive Powers of Cabinet.”
The Constitution Reform Project has two main phases; review of the constitution and referendum on the constitution. Unfortunately, the reform project began in Grenada without an established philosophy, structure and mechanism, as well as without a strong political will. It has been marred by lip service, poor coordination, political pomposity and failures to address the directives of international democratic bodies, such as the Organization of American States (OAS); study the OAS’s document, “Constitutional Reform Project: Grenada”. The people were never taken as ‘central’ to the project; and whatever “form and object” fashioned by the powers-that-be for the project has not been to the interests of the people, or rather, it has not been responsive to public opinions. The first phase of the project was officially conducted from February to November in 1985, and although the process was not comprehensive, the submission of a report on recommendations for salient reforms was welcomed by the people. The constitution review was repeated with major defects and hiccups between 2002 and 2006, but it resulted in the submission of another report having major consistencies with the first.
The reasonable foundation thereafter with the Reform Project and the enthusiasm displayed by the people for the reform(s), spur the unwavering efforts of the late Grenadian Law Professor Simeon R. Mc Intosh towards the drafting of a new constitution; “The Draft Constitution of the Commonwealth of Grenada” can be studied on the Internet. McIntosh was associated with the two previous Constitution Review Commissions and his Draft Constitution had set the focus for actions of advancing the project, by the government of Tillman Thomas’ National Democratic Congress (NDC) in 2010. There was no apparent strategy and commitment by the Government, and thus, a hesitation and lull resulted from the concerns and challenges posed by the opposition of Keith Mitchell’s New National Party (NNP).
To all intents and purposes, the second phase of the Reform Project started in January 2014 with the formation of CRAC; that is, the process for the referendum on the constitution. The CRAC was mandated by the NNP Government to complete the review process on the constitution, making reference to the past accomplishments, towards the holding of a constitutional referendum within a year. Again; this was done without any criteria, parameters, performance indicators, and sequential schedules, as well as without adequate legal, institutional and logistical preparations. Dr Alexis crafted his own “form and object” for the process; and in 2014 he produced “Recommendations by Grenada Constitution Review Commissions” and “The Constitution of Grenada: Questions and Answers” (for interesting analysis and information) and he presented two reports to the Government on the issues for the referendum. Albeit these documents/reports are ‘tailored’, lacking on objective postures and thorough truths, they have not had fair ventilation and easy access by the people.
In the public paper, Dr Alexis also alludes to desperate manoeuvres driven by political, personal and other selfish reasons, to frustrate and delay the process for the constitutional reform(s) in Grenada. Alexis is however liable to the general public for not saying who and/or what is responsible for his submission to the Cabinet in February 2016 of the “Final Drafts of all Provisions for Referendum”, and for he not itemizing to the people all the provisions and areas of readiness for the polls. There have been changes to the date for the referendum over four different times; from the first setting of the date for 10th February 2015 to an anticipated time in July 2016. Is the repeated postponement for the referendum an indictment on the people or on the powers-that-be? Is the fact that to date there has not been any substantial debate in the Parliament on the legislative provisions for the referendum a fault of the people? The only guilt which must be congratulated and credited to the people is for their patriotic and vigilant resolve and for not falling prey to the political and sovereign onslaught by the powers–that–be.
How could Dr Alexis expect the process in constitutional reform for Grenada to inspire a spirit of ‘give and take with a preparedness to compromise’ on a constitutional amendment Bill, such as the Constitution of Grenada (Name of State) Amendment Bill, 2015? What are the carrots and the gains for the people? This Bill exposes beyond the shadow of a doubt the most outrageous deceitfulness and ill-intent of the powers–that–be for the so-called Constitution Reform. It is indeed appalling how the genuine wishes of the people could be distorted and exploited to achieve the ‘special interest’ goals of political cohorts. How could one ‘cultivate consensus’ and agree to the selling-out of the people’s possession, to the eroding of their natural resources, to the depriving of their entitlements, and to the degrading of their social and economic prosperity? How could Alexis explain that “without widespread grassroots people’s participation, fundamental, really constitutional revolutionary, changes have been made”, and thus this position must be applauded and applied for reforming Grenada’s Constitution?
Dr Alexis concludes in his thesis that Grenada is now securely on the road to Referendum Day in 2016, a position shares also by Consultant to the Government on Constitution Reform, Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, under his article “On the Road to Referendum”. Unmistakably, though, the road is ‘bumpy and dangerous’, with far-ranging and far–lasting consequence of injuries and costs. The brash outright refusal to heed the traffic signs and the anxiety and advice of the travelers does not induce confidence and credibility in the directors of the mission. Precautionary measures to avert the catastrophic journey of the process for the constitutional reform(s) may call for Judicial Surveillance!