By Dr Lawrence A Joseph
The political leader of the main opposition party Senator Nazim Burke recently made a declaration that his party “will neither support the proposed Constitutional Reforms in its present construct nor the holding of a National Referendum for that purpose.” He stated that “the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of the most important and substantive issues that must be addressed in any constitutional reform”, and in his opinion the process adopted and followed by the committee in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations to the Cabinet fell short of what can reasonably be expected.”
This declaration followed the submission of a report containing twelve recommendations to the government of Grenada pertaining to amending the Grenada Constitution by the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, headed by Dr Francis Alexis. This Committee, which was launched on 16th January 2014, comprises some fourteen members representing various organizations including Senator Burke’s party, the National Democratic Congress. Former political leader and Prime Minister, Mr Tillman Thomas was the party’s representative on the Committee and signed the report. The recommendations came to the fore after several months of public consultations and referrals to the reports of three previous constitution advisory bodies of 1985, 2006 and 2012. None of the recommendations of these advisory bodies have ever been implemented.
The twelve recommendations which were submitted by the present advisory committee include: having the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final Court of Appeal for Grenada instead of the Privy Council; having an Elections and Boundaries Commission to replace the position of Supervisor of Elections; having the name of the state changed to Grenada Carriacou and Petite Martinique; having more comprehensive fundamental rights and freedoms for individuals; and having specific provisions to avoid conflict of interest situations amongst key officials. The government has accepted all twelve recommendations in principle.
Senator Burke is of the view that those recommendations were insufficient. He feels that the following issues should have been included: term limits for the office of Prime Minister; fixed date for the holding of general elections; proportional representation in parliament; constitutional requirement to have an Opposition Leader in Parliament; a choice between a bicameral versus a unicameral Parliament and a new procedure for electing the Head of State. It is to be noted that all of the above six issues were in fact raised during the consultations which were conducted by the present advisory body. These issues however failed to get the nod for inclusion in the twelve recommendations despite the feeling of some representatives that they could be given due consideration sometime in the future.
It is worthy of note that whilst Senator Burke expresses the view that he wants more issues to be referred to referendum, no objections were raised by him with regard to any of the twelve recommendations that were submitted by the Alexis Committee. As a matter of fact the political leader fully endorses the issues in connection with “Grenada’s accession to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ; the establishment of an Electoral and Boundaries Commission; the inclusion of Carriacou and Petite Martinique in the name of the state and the refinement of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution.”
It is most puzzling therefore that Senator Burke has taken the stance to boycott the referendum. Mr Tillman Thomas may not feel too comfortable with this development. This situation reminds me of my boyhood days when playing marbles with my friends. On occasions when the games were not going in favour of some of them, they would then “raff up” the game by scattering all the marbles. Constitution reform should not be an all or nothing situation. As recognized by Mr Tillman Thomas, there should always be room for incremental changes to be made to the constitution. It should be an ongoing process. A little at a time and all will be fine. In fact if attempts are made to bite off more that we can chew, the electorate may well become confused and a chaotic situation may well arise.
Looking back over time, boycotts in the political arena never achieve their intended objectives. The upcoming referendum gives the electorate choices. Most, if not all of the issues would be on separate bills for the consideration of parliament and ultimately for the consideration of the electorate. Everyone would therefore have a choice to vote either yes or no to any of the proposed issues. This is unlike what took place in St. Vincent a few years ago when the electorate had to vote either yes or no to all the proposals as a block. Shouldn’t we not take what we can get now until we can get all that we want later?