by J K Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), Dr Francis Alexis QC, confirmed in February 2016 that the final drafts of all the provisions needed for holding the constitutional referendum to effect reform(s) to Grenada’s 1974 Independence Constitution have been submitted to the government headed by the New National Party (NNP) of Dr Keith Mitchell. According to Alexis, those provisions include Bills for Acts to reform the constitution and Bills for Acts to put in place the machinery for holding the referendum. Unfortunately however, the Grenadian people and the general public are not conscious and conversant on these bills. The bills were not developed with broad-based public input, neither were the bills circulated for thorough consideration in the public domain; and thus this places a gloom on the credibility of the Constitution Reform Project. Review “Grenada Constitution Reform: No Public Debate”.
Evil deeds are hatched and flourished in darkness. Clandestine manoeuvres are shades of evil deeds. Curtailing the flow and the application of information is a form of manoeuvring which aims to blur and to mislead. Suspicions and speculations are expected when forthright clarifications are not forthcoming. These pronouncements are featured in the modus operandi of the political leadership and are evident in the ‘attitude and approach’ regarding the reform project. Yet, it is outrageous and unbecoming for the powers-that-be to mount effort to have the minds of Grenadians clouded from understanding the referendum process, including the reality of the bills, and thereby to retard their capacity to make informed decisions at the referendum polls.
It is imperative that strong light be shed on the execution of the reform project which is spearheaded by the CRAC without good faith and goodwill to the people. The dark and dreary state on such a noble sovereign affair is of designed by the powers-that-be to hijack the already limited “safeguard mechanisms” that the constitution presently provides for the people; and the bills are all crafted towards achieving this end and to institutionalized autocratic governance. The ill-intention and deceitfulness should be clear, as reflected in the bills which purport to enhance the fundamental Rights and Freedoms and the preservation of the natural Resources and Heritages. In effect, the proposals place no serious obligations on the part of the politicians, place more power in the hands of the politicians and place guaranteed immunity for the politicians by providing that the pertinent principles are non-enforceable. An article, “Grenada’s proposed constitutional coup d’etat” by Grenadian citizen, John A Rullow, makes interesting reading.
Three sets of bills having drastic impacts on the welfare and development of Grenada are being piloted in the Parliament for the referendum; namely the constitutional amendment bills, the constitutional referendum bills and the interpretation bills. The people have the opportunity to vote only on the amendment bills, but this opportunity must not be taken lightly and be wasted. The warning must not be missed that any hostile and negative impact of the outcome of the referendum will not be easily reversed or revoked. People’s vigilance, democratic persuasion and judicial surveillance are necessary on all of those bills, especially on the areas concerning the ‘self assuming’ power of the politicians to interpret, to construct and to restructure the constitution to their own whims and fancies. The sad experiences of national institutions and Grenadians of all walks of life from the abuses of the constitution by the government should give sound advice on what are now being confronted. Also review the previous article “Grenada Constitution Reform: Unconstitutional Acts”.
Seven constitutional amendment bills had a second reading and were passed by the ‘one-sided’ House of Representatives on and around 21 June 2016. The bills were merely presented and then political rituals followed. There were no pointed explanations and independent conscientious voting by the parliamentary representatives on the over seventy proposals contained in the bills, and indeed there was no analysis of the proposals in terms of pertinent references to the affected clauses or sections in the existing constitutional instruments. The contents, substance and implications of each proposal are kept remote from the people, but rather the people are showered with superficiality, rhetoric and mediocrity. Definitely, something is being hidden or something is wrong which the powers-that-be does not want the people to know, since they are aware that the people has the real power or the key to abort the evil deeds at the referendum following other countries.
The Amendment Bills seek to alter the Constitution of Grenada by an Act to provide for the establishing of the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate court for Grenada in substitution for Her Majesty in Council and to provide for other justice-related matters; an Act to limit the term of office of the Prime Minister; an Act to authorize Parliament to set a fixed date for General Elections; an Act to ensure that there is at all times a Leader of the Opposition; an Act to change the name of the State from Grenada to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique; an Act to establish an Elections and Boundaries Commission to carry out the functions formerly performed by the Supervisor of Elections and the Constituency Boundaries Commission; and an Act to make better provision for the rights and freedoms of the individual. Whilst the short-titles of the bills may appear laudable, the devil is always in the details from technicalities and ambiguities and irregularities.
From many angles, Grenada’s reform project and the case for the undertaking are unique; contrary to the simplistic view that constitutional lawyer Dr Alexis holds, as he compares similar ventures in other countries. In his publication “Process in Constitution Reform”, Alexis attempts to categorize and to esteem the work of the CRAC by stating, “Several other countries are planning for a Referendum Day in 2016. Focussed talk in this regard began in Antigua & Barbuda in 2015, The Bahamas 2015, the UK 2016 and Bermuda 2016”. Further, an enquiring mind would wonder what are the lessons and conclusions that constitutional lawyer Sir Lawrence Joseph is trying to convey in his article “Comparing the UK Referendum Approach to that of Grenada”. Alexis and Joseph articles are on the Internet; also find and study “Grenada Constitution Reform: Forms and Objects”.
No recent date has been announced for the referendum, but Deputy Prime Minister Elvin Nimrod, who is the Government’s spokesperson for the reform project, in the 14 June 2016 weekly post-Cabinet press conference expressed that the process towards the referendum will be intensified with critical importance to ensure that the process is simple for the voters; as reported, he acknowledges the process to be “much more complicated and much more challenging”. The fact is that Grenadians are faced with an ‘unprecedented or unconventional’ “referendum of referenda”, in which each of the referenda has a number of different proposals. This scenario speaks to confusion for an unprepared electoral office, as well as for an uneducated electorate, on the process. A proper date for the referendum can only be realised when there has been completed a comprehensive voter education programme on all bills and on the voting procedures, and a clean alignment of the electoral machines.
The Representation of the People Act and the Referendum Act have been proven inadequate for the referendum. In this light, there is the Constitutional Referendum Bill, 2016 for an Act to make provision for the procedures for the holding of a constitutional referendum on Bills for the altering of the Constitution, and certain other constitutional instruments, for the purposes of section 39 of the Constitution. This referendum bill has about twenty-seven extensive sections, deserving extensive consultations and settlements with stakeholders; it includes pertinent regulations to address issues such as ballot papers, code of conduct and writs for the polls.
The third set of bills in relation to the referendum is the Constitution of Grenada (Interpretation) (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for an Act to amend the Constitution of Grenada so that the Interpretation and General Provisions Act CAP. 153 would be used for the construction of the Constitution in place of the Interpretation Act 1889 of the United Kingdom; and the Interpretation and General Provisions (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2016 for an Act to amend the Interpretation and General Provisions Act CAP. 153 so that the Interpretation and General Provisions Act would be used for the construction of the Constitution in place of the Interpretation Act 1889 of the United Kingdom. A principal danger of such bills is the determination and definition of “no substantive” constitutional change, by the powers-that-be in a subtle manner so as to declare and apply what are entrenched provisions.
Part of the mix by the powers-that-be to hijack the constituent sovereign power of the people is another bill once referred to as the Constitution of Grenada (Restructuring) (Amendment) Bill. This bill is for an Act to amend the Constitution of Grenada so that after other amendments are carried out Chapters and Sections would be repositioned and renumbered and references to existing sections would be altered correspondingly if necessary in both the body of the Constitution and in the Schedules. This restructuring would be done by the Attorney-General and would need the endorsement of both Houses of Parliament, monopolizing the changes.
Grenada is at a watershed period into dark days with a constitutional referendum being executed in darkness.