by Sir Lawrence A Joseph
Very recently, the Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines enacted what some see as a most progressive piece of legislation. It is the Oaths of Officials Act which now enables officials when taking up office to swear allegiance to that country instead of to the Monarch of the United Kingdom (UK).
Notwithstanding the passage of this Act, Queen Elizabeth the Second of the UK remains the ceremonial Head of State through the Governor–General of that country. An attempt by the government of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in 2009 to turn that country into a Republic and thus abandon the monarchical system of government was rejected by the electorate by way of a referendum. The present action on the part of the same Ralph Gonsalves government appears to be one step forward in an endeavour to break the shackles of the colonial past.
The St Vincent initiative has stirred up a considerable amount of interest amongst Grenadians. Some are wondering whether Grenada too could take the cue from St Vincent and break off from the custom of swearing an oath to Her Majesty and instead swear that oath to Grenada especially after 42 years of independent status. In fact within Caricom, Jamaica which is also a constitutional monarchy just like St Vincent has already taken a similar route some years before. The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Republic of Guyana and the Republic of the Commonwealth of Dominica, being republics, no longer have the British Monarch as Head of State. Officials in those countries, therefore, swear their allegiance to their respective states and not to any outside Monarch. These countries still remain members of the Commonwealth.
It was not difficult for St Vincent and the Grenadines to change course in the way they did. Their Constitution does not provide the wording for how an Oath of Allegiance should be done. That Constitution merely indicates that certain officials must either swear to or affirm to the Oath of Allegiance enacted by Parliament. Therefore, there was no need for a referendum on the matter. As a consequence, Parliament enacted the Oaths of Officials Act which spells out the wording of the Oath which states: “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to St Vincent and the Grenadines, that I will uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines and I will conscientiously and impartially discharge my responsibilities to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So help me God.”
On the contrary, Schedule 3 of the Constitution of Grenada outlines the wording of the Oath of Allegiance which officials must swear to or Affirm when taking up official duties. These officials, such as members of the House of Representatives or of the Senate are mandated to swear to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law. This is an entrenched constitutional provision. Therefore if any changes are to be made to the wording of the Oath, then 90 days must pass after the First Reading of the relevant Bill in the House of Representatives before debate and passage by at least a two-thirds majority support. A simple majority support must be obtained in the Senate and two-thirds majority support must be obtained in a referendum.
Fortunately, provisions have been made for this to happen in the present round of Constitutional review. Sections 37 and 38 of the “Constitution of Grenada (Caribbean Court of Justice and Other Justice Related Matters) (Amendment) Act 2016 gives Grenadians the opportunity to be able to make changes to the Oath of Allegiance.” This Bill is presently before the House of Representatives together with other constitutional amendment Bills at the First Reading Stage. It is therefore anticipated that following the processing of that Bill in both Houses of Parliament, the electorate would have the opportunity to accept it or reject it when the referendum is held.
It is posited that having the opportunity to swear the Oath of Allegiance to our country instead of to the Queen is a most significant step forward. This is not to say that any disrespect is being shown to Her Majesty. Her Majesty would still continue to be the ceremonial Head of State as represented by the Governor-General. Grenada would still continue to remain a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth until such time as Grenadians express the desire to do otherwise. Indeed, the present Monarch of the UK has for many years commanded tremendous respect world-wide. However, once the above-mentioned constitutional action is approved by the electorate, this would ensure that our independence is being further asserted and as a consequence our spirit of nationalism ought to be further enhanced.