by JK Roberts (Sound Public Policies Advocate)
There is no constitutional challenge nor is there any constitutional crisis in Grenada having no Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament. The constitution provides for the occasions for the appointment of a Leader of the Opposition, section 66.2, as well as for when such an appointment is not possible, section 62.2; and in both cases, the Governor-General acts in his own deliberate judgment.
In fact, Grenada’s recent history attests that for the previous 2 general elections in January 1999 and in February 2013, when the New National Party (NNP) formed the government after capturing all of the fifteen seats in the House of Representatives, there was no hindrance to the functioning of Parliament and to the governance of the nation, and indeed there was no protest and friction by the Grenadian people. Furthermore; no significant difference, except merely symbolic, could be realized with the ‘affair and power and integrity’ of Parliament, whether or not there is a Leader of the Opposition, especially in the present construct, circumstance and mode of democracy being paraded in the nation.
In the Sixth Parliament (from 1999 to 2003) though, the House of Representatives had an Opposition Leader in the person of Micheal Baptiste when he ‘crossed the floor’ in June 2000. Throughout the Ninth Parliament (2013 to 2018) there was no Leader of the Opposition, but there were three ‘pretend’ Opposition Senators who undergone much resentment and ridicule in the Senate, mainly on the basis that they were elections candidates for the ‘de facto’ opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and had been appointed by the Governor-General at that time (Sir Carlyle Glean) who has been perceived to be associated with the NDC and soon after resigned (in May 2013).
The argument and anxiety about the appointment of so-called Opposition Senators, as a result of the clean sweep at the March 2018 elections, by yet again Dr Keith Mitchell-led NNP, is uncalled-for. Likewise, any clamour by Prime Minister Mitchell, NNP, or other sectors, for members of NDC to accept senatorial positions would be unwarranted, hypocritical and improper, since the Governor-General (Dame Dr Cecile La Grenade) has to complete the Senate in her own deliberate judgment, ‘having to consult no one or having the advice of no one’, when the office of Leader of the Opposition is vacant. Instead of focusing all attention to the NDC, this situation provides an opportunity for the many other ambitious politicians who have vied in the 2018 General Election, to get an experience in the Parliament; these include essentially candidates of the Grenada Empowerment Movement, Grenada Progressive Movement, Grenada Renaissance Party, The Liberal Party and The Progress Party.
The harsh and humiliating personal attacks evident, especially at NDC’s political leader (Nazim Burke), in the last elections propaganda campaigning may have proven effective in harming the credibility and competence and communication of the NDC. Their performances and utterances in Parliament will be of no respect, especially to the common citizens; thus, the influx of new ‘unblemished’ voices in the honourable houses of parliament would be more acceptable and beneficial. Insistent efforts to have NDC in the Senate could be the continuation of a political strategy to parade a national consensus and a democratic front, especially on the ‘unreasonable’ issue of assenting to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). It is very difficult to understand ‘consciously and sincerely’ how this CCJ issue remains a priority by the powers-that-be at this time of escalating socio-economic and public services mess, including the delays and denials of legal and moral justice to the common citizens. Review the previously internet circulated article Grenada Constitution Reform: The CCJ Bill (Part A and Part B).
The idea that the Grenadian electorate voted intentionally to have no parliamentary opposition must be discarded; and actually, no one should go to a general election to elect a Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, it is irresponsible and inappropriate to conclude that the electorate is not interested to have an Opposition. The result of the 2018 elections, in terms of having no Leader of the Opposition, was not decided fundamentally by the electorate but by the legal instruments used for the elections, which should have ensured that the people are adequately represented with meaningful participation in Parliament, within a ‘free and fair’ democratic framework. It is also repugnant and regrettable for the intelligentsia, particularly political scientists of the regional ‘premier and prestigious’ university, to blame the local electorate for having no Leader of the Opposition, due to the failure of the November 2016 constitutional referendum. The common citizens are at the ‘expediency and exploit’ of the elite; the previously internet circulated article Grenada Constitution Reform: Voting with Conscience also speaks about the tendency of the establishment to impose orders to consolidate its power and glory.
A comprehensive, genuine and objective analysis of all seven Referendum Bills would certainly instruct that they were not designed to significantly transform governance in the interest of the people. Particularly, the Constitution of Grenada (Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition) (Amendment) Bill, 2016, purported to alter the Constitution of Grenada to ensure that there is at all times a Leader of the Opposition, did not sufficiently provide to meet its objective. There was no due process with, and no well intent of, the Bill; it is open to abuse and convoluted for application. The Bill in its present construct and content, does not allow the constitution with its other existing provisions, to disallow an occasion of when there will be no Leader of the Opposition; however, it fosters the occasion for having an ‘artificial’ Leader of the Opposition and thereby propelling a one-party state.
Although of its peculiar drawbacks, the electoral Proportional Representation system was rejected by the powers-that-be, without any sound explanations to the people. This has been the case, despite the system is an outstanding recommendation from earlier constitution review committees and the calls by the people for its inclusion in the referendum. However, the proponents of the so-called Leader of the Opposition Bill boasted of making history, with it being a hybrid version of the First Past The Post and the Proportional Representation methods of electing members to the House of Representatives.
The nationalists or the progressive forces would seek to justify the presence of NDC in the Senate, as well as in the social partners, as a mark of “cooperation over opposition” and by extension as fashioning a government of national unity. However, what is the genuine premise upon which this is done or is being aspired? Is this a form of window dressing or damage control, after the barrage of vilifications and instigation of strife during the elections campaigns, which have greatly confused and polluted the minds of the young people? In this light, any approach for electoral reform must also consider a mechanism for debriefing, healing and counseling from the campaigns, as well as for a political ombudsman and adherence to a code of conduct. Nothing should be done to support another political charade like the social partners, which seems to be an accomplice to the powers-that-be in its dubious and disturbing ventures but gaining the applause of regional and international persons.
Universally there is no dispute on the importance of a parliamentary opposition. It has been generally accepted that the role of the Opposition is to scrutinise, apprise and criticize effectively, the policies and administration of the government and to hold the government accountable to the electorate. The Opposition, on behalf of the people, has the opportunities to question the government and to debate and comment on its actions, which concentrates primarily on legislative and financial matters. However, this role can only be materialised effectively in a conducive setting, and in which the spirit and the principles of democracy, good governance and the constitution is upheld by the honourable members of parliament. Actually, a parliamentary opposition for the general vigilance and restraint of the ruling administration in engaging in abuses and excesses, is only one of the many such institutional arrangements, yet their existence has proven to have no relevance and meaningful impact.
Emanating from been elected to the House of Representatives, the Leader of the Opposition has two direct constitutional roles further to debating government’s actions. These roles relate to assisting with the appointment and removal of 3 senators of the 13 members of the Senate (sections 24 and 27.2e) and with the appointment and removal of 2 of the 5 members to the Constituency Boundaries Commission (section 55). Furthermore, with particular reference to the financial dealings of the government, an opposition member/s usually have a prominent presence for overall oversight on the Public Accounts Committee, which has been established as a procedural rule in the Standing Orders of Parliament (section 50 of the Constitution). Notwithstanding; the public has been robbed of accurate information on critical national issues, involving assets, patrimony, debt and deals in its name.
Reports on the creditworthiness and corruption indexes of Grenada, often point to a level of shadiness in its governance, even when there is an opposition in parliament, a constitutional Director of Audit (section 82), financial rules and regulations, and adoption of pertinent international treaties. A main political party without a seat in the parliament can be mighty by monitoring the operations of the government, marshaling the people, and mounting its plans and projects as alternatives for the nation.