The first steps of a constitutional toddler

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Sir Lawrence A Joseph

Grenada has remained in constitutional diapers since it obtained its independence on 7 February 1974. Since then, 5 significant attempts were made to remove those diapers by every subsequent government but to no avail. The first attempt was made by the People’s Revolutionary Government in 1979–80. The second attempt was made in 1985 when a Review Commission chaired by Sir Fred Phillips was established by the Herbert Blaize administration. The third attempt was made by the Keith Mitchell administration in 2002 when a Review Commission was established and was chaired by Dr  Nicholas Liverpool and the Hon. Justice Lyle St Paul respectively. The fourth attempt was made by the Tillman Thomas administration in 2010 when Professor Randolph Mc Intosh was appointed as the sole Commissioner. Finally, the fifth attempt was made by the incumbent Keith Mitchell administration which established the most recent review body in 2014 chaired by Dr Francis Alexis. This last review body is the first to have gone the distance of giving the electorate the opportunity to actually cast their votes in referendums. Despite this gallant effort the constitutional diapers still remain untouched.

Whether the main reason behind the decision of the electorate to disapprove of the proposed constitutional amendments on Referendum Day was based upon a protest vote by the main opposition party or upon the merits or demerits of the proposed Bills is anyone’s guess. Whatever it was, the novelty of holding referendums in Grenada would inevitably have played a part. One is reminded of a baby toddler trying to make his first steps. The toddler is unsure about what he is about to do, yet his mother holds unto him, makes him stand up, and lets him go. The toddler bursts out with a big grin on his face raises one foot unsteadily, places it down, and repeats the motion with the other foot. But Alas! The confidence is not there, and the toddler goes crashing down to the floor. Despite the fall, it is imperative that the toddler walks on his own two feet sometimes, so the actions which created what seems to be a temporary setback have to be repeated until he gets it right.

No one could be certain as to when the next Constitution Review would take place. Constitution reviews and referendums cost millions of dollars and take a lot of time and effort. However, it is advisable that efforts to revise the Constitution should not be discontinued. There is a lot of merit in the saying that one must continue beating the iron whilst it is hot. Constitutional reform is still a hot topic. It is submitted that Grenadians are just about beginning to understand the process. Certainly, all the Constitutional Amendments Bills were not all controversial. It is quite possible that some measure of national consensus may be gathered for some of them. Both government and opposition may well see the need to have cooperation in this regard in the national interest.

Once there is general consensus it would be most worthwhile for consideration to be given to having the electorate vote on at least one or two of these seemingly non-controversial proposed constitutional amendments at the same time as when the upcoming general election would be held. In accordance with section 52 (2) and section 53 (1) of the Constitution, the next general election in Grenada must be held on or before 25 June 2018. Quite a number of countries and a number of States in the USA use the opportunity at election time to also undertake a referendum. This procedure is quite convenient to the electorate and it is cost effective to the government. For example in 1978 in the State of California in the USA, at the time of state elections, the electorate approved a referendum called Proposition 13 which proposed to limit the state’s ability to collect property taxes. In 2008, also at the time of state elections, the electorate approved the referendum called Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriages however the Federal Courts subsequently overturned this decision on the ground that it was unconstitutional.

It is imperative that Grenada moves out of the constitutional toddler stage and at least become a constitutional teenager. It would always be better to have incremental improvements made to our Constitution than to engage in wholesale reform which may cause later regrets. The idea which is being mooted by some that constituent assemblies should be established all over the state for the purpose of reviewing and completely overhauling the Constitution may well be pipe dream. Would Grenadians as a whole be really interested in holding regular constituent meetings in order to discuss constitutional reform? Based upon what has taken place over the last two and a half years of national consultations this idea seems to be most impractical.

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