by J K Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
“It is heartening to know that both the main opposition and the government are synchronised on the referendum approach.” This is the elated and celebrating tone of advocate and consultant for the current constitutional reform process, Sir Lawrence A Joseph, as expressed in his article “The Synchronization of the Opposition’s Referendum Approach with that of Government.” According to Joseph’s exposition, “this common thread (of synchronisation) is that people must be allowed to vote their consciences on referendum day.” Unfortunately, the phrase ‘vote with your conscience’ seems to be adopted by other sectors of the society including some civil society organisations, in their so-called sensitisation and education ventures on the referendum. The hypocrisy, though, is that those persons adopting and using the phrase are trying to be politically-correct and at the same time trying not to appear to be influencing what ought to be the free, objective and sovereign decisions of the electorate on what ought to be a respectable and rewarding constitutional referendum. This referendum is the first for Grenada since its independence in February 1974.
Vote With Your Conscience is indeed a political communication, which is especially meant for the innocent and ignorant persons as well as for the cohorts of the political parties. The statement is sent more ‘directly, firmly and bravely’ by the ruling New National Party (NNP) than by the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party. Considering that the NNP forms the government, that the government has been facilitating and funding the reform process and that the government is on a campaign, with the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), to encourage the people to support the Constitutional Amendment Bills, then the message by the government to vote with your conscience actually signals to Vote Yes at the referendum. Although the NDC seems not to be robust and resolved in its position on the referendum, its message to vote with your conscience will signal Vote No at the referendum. Grenada is very politically polarised and sensitive, and therefore no conscious person should expect the referendum-undertaking to be void of party politics; the situation worsens when the referendum has been scheduled nearing general elections which are constitutionally due in the first half of 2018 and with the focus of the parties now on wooing voters and testing popularities.
In the genuine spirit of goodwill and in good faith, the counsel on voting with conscience is synonymous with the imperative of making an informed and correct vote; but this can only be possible when morals, wisdom and understanding are applied to credible information. Outside of being exposed to the merits and demerits of the issues, there cannot be a clear conscience to vote, “yes or no”, on the Amendment Bills; and this is why it is no wonder that most eligible individuals are opting to follow their consciences of not casting a vote on referendum day. The case must be made, though, that abstaining from the polls would not be a conscientious, patriotic and correct decision; but more realistically, after fully analyzing and weighing the context, circumstances and consequence of this critical national undertaking, it will be sound and wise for the concerned electorate to Vote No at the referendum. A “NO” outcome of the referendum should send a serious message of real ‘Peoples Power’ to the powers-that-be, and thereby set the stage for broad debates on the issues and for the people to secure a stake in the constitutional reform process; review the article “Grenada Constitution Reform: Patriotically Reconsider Please!” which implores for complete revamping of the process.
Dr Wendy C. Grenade, lecturer in Political Science and Integration Studies at The University of the West Indies in Barbados, opined in her 2-part article “A Positive Step toward Meaningful Nationhood,” that conscious Grenadians should overwhelmingly vote “Yes” on all 7 counts at the referendum. Instructively, she then conceded on 6 November 2016, in an internet radio programme (Sundays with George Grant on Granada broadcast) that the process and the content for the referendum are flawed and have been compromised. Grenade, however, holds the view that the method for the referendum is good; alluding the method to be voting with conscience on the merits of each of the Amendment Bills. She also affirms the idiom “the perfect must never be the enemy of the good” and concludes, there is still good that can be salvaged from a process that is far from perfect. The lessons, though, which must never be absorbed and sanctioned from the scholastic presentations is for the Grenadian people to consent for mediocrity and substandard, as well as for disrespect and betrayal. Moreover, it must never be missed as a rule of law, that a single iota of evidence of misconduct and/or misstep undermines credibility and that discredited cases are often condemned and rejected; review “Grenada Constitution Reform: Misleading Phenomena,” which highlights various areas of egocentric expediency, deliberate deficiency and legal controversy with the implementation of the referendum.
Desperate efforts are employed by the powers-that-be, to confuse and to hoodwink the Grenadian people about the referendum. The establishment with its guardians is enthused to secure a Yes-outcome of the referendum to achieve personal and political boosts, to consolidate grips on the people and to forge a regional empire of the elites; and thus all forms of strategy are executed to achieve these goals. The insincerely proclaimed ‘piecemeal manner’ of reforming the constitution is in favour of the establishment; clearly, this is the backdrop that all of the major recommendations of the people from the 3 previous drives for the reform(s) have been ignored as a priority for the referendum. Most disgusting but indeed revealing, is for the CRAC and the Government, with their agents, to be advising the electorate who is in doubt about the referendum to abstain from voting on the Amendment Bills and to be presenting different combinations of the bills for support by the electorate who is inclined to vote. The manoeuvring is contemptuous when there is consciousness and conscientiousness that abstaining from the polls is tantamount voting yes and then having to live with the consequences of changes that are not understood; a 67% of the validly cast Yes-votes brings the changes. Here is another instance of the constitutional coup d’etat and democracy travesty associated with the referendum. Is voting with conscience conditional and contextual, to the extent of not participating in the referendum?
The concept of voting with conscience germinates from the old adage, “let your conscience be your guide” which conveys a moral principle. However, the practicing of this principle is subjective to the personal capacity of interpretation, belief, experience and judgement. Besides, in this age of Relativism; moral principle would change and be applied and accepted in accordance with certain conditions and trends. Thus, it would be seen as advantageous to vote with conscience for protecting personal interests and/or sectorial interests, and generally, such a stance will be vehemently defended at the expense of the public good. The present messy state of affairs on the referendum has resulted mainly because renowned persons remained silent and haven’t submitted any objective analysis and professional advice on the process and substance of the Amendment Bills, for fear of being branded, targeted, ostracized or victimized; should it then be said that these persons are being guided by their consciences? It may be also regrettable to have persons using conscience of gratitude and obligation to an entity which is usually generous to them and now seeks to influence the way they cast votes on referendum day.
Academic professionals have been injecting a new dimension for constitutional referendum in Grenada and have devalued the fundamental and unique case on the deserved treatments for reforming the constitution of Grenada. The primary rationale and objective for constitutional reform are gradually and cunningly shifting to the context of Caribbean Regionalism, in which sovereignty and nationhood, as well as democracy and governance, are being redefined. In addressing the Grenada Constitution Reform Special Assembly on 5 November 2016, organised by CRAC towards the 24 November referendum, on the theme Constitution Reform and National Development, Grenadian Dr Grenade again encourages unreserved support by fellow Grenadians for the package of proposals on the referendum. Her thought-provoking remarks exclaim that “our constitution must also link Grenada to the rest of its Caribbean family and to the rest of the world… we are part of a regional security complex and Grenada’s destiny is intertwined with the destiny of our Caribbean sisters and brothers… therefore it is incumbent on us to update the constitutional rules of engagement to ensure that Grenada is constitutionally aligned with its regional commitments.” It is heartrending, though, when nothing has been uttered by the “nationalist and student of democracy” about Grenada’s commitments to its people.
Whilst it could be considered that Grenade’s keynote address was prepared and presented with “consciousness, boldness and conviction” to the same degree that she advises Grenadians to exercise their right to vote for the constitutional referendum questions, many mindful persons would view the Special Assembly as a farce. The assembly which attracted just about 50 attendance, this amount also including the organizers, panelists and media, could not have been genuinely convened to openly discuss realistically how the people of Grenada choose to govern themselves, when everything has been already sealed and set for the referendum and having the ‘will and wish’ of the people been humiliated. As a thought; was the assembly organised to capture or to corrupt the consciences of the voters and then to indoctrinate them on the ideology that “a stronger Grenada is a stronger Caribbean and a stronger Caribbean is a stronger Grenada”, even when there are other Caribbean countries which are enjoying much better standard of living than Grenadians? Indeed, voting with conscience must be closed to party-politics but must never be isolated from socio-economic welfare; and contrary to what is being preached, there is nothing in the Amendment Bills that will improve the quality of life for Grenadians.
It appears that Grenada is being made a scapegoat for not having a stronger Caribbean and is now placed in an awkward position on conscience as regards “the advancement of Grenadian nationhood and Caribbean regionalism,” by scaremongers. However, how far has Grenada fallen short with external requirements and what consequences the country has been suffering from any of the deficiencies? Grenadians have much more to lose by voting yes for changes at the referendum, than for voting no for things to remain as is. By means of its constitutional referendum exercise, is Grenada asked to take the lead to rectify the ills of CARICOM of over 40 years? Isn’t Grenada already a signatory to the July 2001 Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which establishes the Caribbean Community including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy; and in particular isn’t Grenada in compliance with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the issues of trade and economics?
Are CARICOM and the CCJ concerned about the socio-economic predicaments facing vulnerable Grenadians, especially as relates to the austerity measures of the Structural Adjustment Programme supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? How are CARICOM and its auxiliary institutions, as well as regional governments, responsive to the frustration of public officers to have their constitutional pensions entitlement honoured, and to the pain endured by the nation’s young ladies who are employed under humiliating conditions and with low wages? How do these prominent entities justify the curtailment of essential public services in Grenada due to the Government’s attrition policy on employment and thus, for example, grossly affecting the delivery of medical care to the people? It would be foolish and far from voting with real conscience at the referendum, for Grenadians to assent to impositions which are not sympathetic and alleviating to their cries.
The consciences of Grenadians on the referendum can be guided by the empirical experiences of their Caribbean neighbours which are similar geopolitics, political aspiration and constitutional construct. Of relevance is the thought, how has the failure of the constitutional referendum on 25 November 2009, in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) hampered or further degraded the thrust for Caribbean Integration; or in particular, to what extent has the socio-economic development of SVG and its people negatively affected by the rejection of its deformed reform process? Moreover, Grenada voting with conscience at the referendum must be also guided by the empirical basis of the results of the 8 November 2016 general elections of the United States of America, and the 23 June 2016 United Kingdom Brexit referendum. The profound results reflect a rejection of the dictates and deceits of the influential establishments and a decision of the nationals to take back their countries and to affirm their identities. In fact, given a referendum to decide, Caribbean people would vote with conscience to exit from the status quo of CARICOM which has been existing without their consent.
Voting With Conscience is an expression of freedom of conscience, which is profoundly entrenched as a fundamental right and freedom in the constitution of Grenada. Section 9 of the constitution speaks to the protection of freedom of conscience stipulating that “except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought … “ and section 10 speaks to the protection of expression stipulating that, “except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions…freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference… and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”
The expressions of conscience and thought by many persons on the 24 November 2016 referendum are that the ‘attitude, intent and approach’ for reforming Grenada’s constitution is contrary to context, to sober and sound conscience and to consensus. As stands, the legislative order for conducting the referendum, the Constitutional Referendum law (Act No. 25 of 2016) is riddled with troubling inconsistencies and ambiguities which can render the outcome of the referendum void. The article Constitutional Reform: A No No for Grenada?” published in May 2013, makes the point that seriousness was never a factor.