The Synchronization of the Opposition’s Referendum approach with that of Government

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

The word “synchronization” here refers to a co-ordination or a coming together of the approaches to the ongoing referendum project on the part of both the opposition and the government. After all have been said and done, it seems that there is a common thread uniting the different approaches relating to the opposition and the government. This common thread is that people must be allowed to vote their consciences on referendum day. At the meeting of the Senate on Wednesday, 13 July, the acknowledged Leader of the Opposition, Sen. Nazim Burke made a most significant revelation. At the end of his three and a half hour presentation during the debate on the Referendum Bills, Sen. Burke stated that whilst he had serious problems with the process which led up to the drafting of the referendum Bills, there were a few substantial recommendations for which he would be voting based on his conscience.

Whilst government never expressed any reservations with regards to the referendum process, government also has taken a similar position that electors must vote their consciences. Moreover, the veil of cabinet collective responsibility was lifted by the Prime Minister in order to enable cabinet ministers to vote their respective consciences. Constitutional Referendums must always be non-partisan.

Amending a country’s constitution is a very serious and far-reaching exercise. It is most important therefore that incremental changes should be made to constitutions rather than embarking on many substantial changes at the same time. The latter approach is dangerous and may lead to chaos. Indeed constitution review ought to be an ongoing process. I envisage that in the next 10 years from today the thinking of the electorate would undergo substantial re-awakening and consciences may then be more amenable to substantial changes being made. These changes may yet involve some of the things which the main opposition is thinking about putting before the electorate. These include the establishment of a Republican system of government here in Grenada instead of the Monarchical system that we have; having proportional representation for electoral purposes; and having a single chamber of Parliament instead of a double chamber as we now have. However a little at a time and all will be fine.

As it stands now the recommendations which have been incorporated in seven of the referendum Bills which have been passed by both Houses of Parliament are relatively substantial and are good for a start of the process of Constitution reform. The Rights and Freedoms Bill proposes to significantly improve the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, lays down for the first time the constitutional basis for the recognition of gender equality, ensures that children in general under the age of 16 years and those with disabilities under the age of 18 years obtain free education and gives general guidelines as to how the state should be governed. It is most difficult to see how anyone could vote against this.

It is also most difficult to see how any rational person could vote against the Elections and Boundaries Commission Bill which proposes that a commission should be established comprising representatives from both the government and the opposition to oversee the electoral process instead of a single Supervisor of Elections; the Caribbean Court of Justice and Other Justice Related Bill which proposes that our own CCJ ought to be our final Court of Appeal instead of the Privy Council. The CCJ is more accessible to Caribbean people; it is less costly and steps have been taken to enable its judges to be insulated from political interference. The Bill also seeks to enable officials to swear allegiance to the state of Grenada rather than to Her Majesty, her Heirs and Successors.

The Name of State Bill proposes to change the name of Grenada to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Indeed these islands make enormous contributions to the development of the nation as a whole and their inclusivity needs to be recognized. Any political party which appears to back-peddle on this Bill would spell doom for its representation in those islands. The other three Bills which are worthy of due consideration are: Term of Office of Prime Minister Bill which proposes that no person may be appointed as Prime Minister after that person has served in that capacity for three consecutive terms; Fixed Date for Elections Bill which proposes that Parliament may authorize a fixed date for holding general elections; and Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition Bill which makes provisions for ensuring that even if one political party wins all the seats in the House of Representatives as is presently the case, a Leader of the Opposition would be appointed to sit in that House.

Altogether it is heartening to know that both the main opposition and the government are synchronized on the referendum approach.

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