by Dr Lawrence A. Joseph
It will be recalled that the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, headed by Dr Francis Alexis, was launched by government on 16 February last year. The Committee was established for the purpose of holding consultations with the general public with a view towards obtaining consensus on firm proposals for amending or reforming the Constitution and for the purpose of advising the government accordingly. The Committee comprises a wide cross-section of various organizations.
Following several months of public consultations throughout Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the Committee identified certain key proposals for amending the Constitution. Some of these are to be grouped together in order to facilitate the drafting of a number of Bills. A Bill is a document which formulates a proposal or proposals for the consideration of Parliament before it becomes law as an Act of Parliament. In general, before Bills are sent to Parliament for consideration they must be approved by the Cabinet.
The current status with regards to the process of constitution review is that the drafting committee of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee met with drafting experts from the Ministry of Legal Affairs and coordinated efforts on at least 2 occasions in recent times. The main purpose of the meetings was to finalize the various Bills before they are submitted for the consideration of Cabinet. Cabinet has the responsibility of reviewing those Bills, approving them as they are or suggesting certain amendments. When once the Bills are endorsed by Cabinet, they will be sent to the Clerk of Parliament for tabling at the next sitting of the House of Representatives.
It is anticipated that Parliament will be prorogued soon to enable a short parliamentary recess. After the recess a new parliamentary term begins and Parliament will be formally opened with the reading of the “Throne Speech” by the Governor-General. It seems therefore that soon after the opening of the new Parliament that the Bills relating to any amendments to be made to the Constitution will be laid in the House of Representatives.
According to section 39 of the Constitution, all Bills which seek to provide for the amendment of entrenched provisions of the Constitution must remain in the House for ninety days (not including Sundays and public holidays) before any debate on them is entertained by the Speaker. Once that period elapses, then the Bills have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of all members of the House before they are sent to the Senate for consideration. The Senate only has to approve those Bills by a simple majority. Following the Senate’s approval, then the electorate would have to approve them by a two-thirds majority support in a referendum.
At the referendum stage electors who support a particular Bill will be asked to indicate so by ticking the “YES” box and those who do not support will be asked to put a tick in the “NO” box. The present thinking of the Committee is that about seven to eight Bills comprising certain grouped proposals will be forwarded to Cabinet for its consideration. This is in stark contrast to what was mistakenly done in St Vincent a few years ago when only one Bill with all constitutional proposals was submitted. That Bill failed at the referendum stage because it contained too many controversial proposals.
The proposals which are intended to be in the Grenada Bills, inter alia, pertain to fundamental rights and freedoms (including gender equality), changing the name of the state to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, having the Oath of Allegiance be given to the state instead of to Her Majesty, establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final Court of Appeal instead of the Privy Council, having an Elections and Boundaries Commission being responsible for the holding of elections instead of a single Supervisor of Elections, having an Electoral College comprising members of Parliament elect a Governor-General instead of a Prime Minister, establishing term limits for Prime Ministers, having fixed dates for the holding of general elections, ensuring that there is a Leader of the Opposition at all times and authorizing the Attorney General to restructure the Constitution after amendments have been made.
Once the Bills are laid in Parliament, the Committee intends to intensify the campaign to further educate and sensitize people regarding Constitution review. Grenadians are assured therefore that the process of Constitution review is alive and well in Grenada and that they must be prepared to participate in the upcoming referendum which is likely to be held within the first quarter of next year, 2016.