With the carnival season now behind us, the Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) headed by Dr. Francis Alexis will start its work in earnest to prepare the nation for Referendum Day.
Dr. Alexis has announced that October 27 is the date in which Grenadians will vote to try and effect some changes to the 1974 Constitution document.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference held at the Ministerial Complex in St. George’s, Dr. Alexis defended the October date in light of its historic importance to the local population.
Two of the most momentous events were the October 19, 1983 bloody execution of leftist Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop and three Cabinet colleagues on Fort George’s and the U.S-led military intervention six days later on October 25, 1983 to help restore law and order in the Spice Isle.
The coup leaders including ex-deputy Prime Minister, Bernard Coard, his Jamaican-born wife Phyllis, former army commander, General Hudson Austin and former Mobilisation Minister Selwyn Strachan were rounded up and put on trial for the mass killings.
Dr. Alexis told reporters: “We have come to the conclusion that the best day for referendum day this year is a day that takes into effect all that we have learned”.
The respected constitutional experts acknowledged that October is a month of great significance to the people of Grenada, and that CRAC has regard to the historicity of the month of October.
Dr. Alexis believes that the October 27th date for the referendum will build the referendum into the country’s history, and using the history of Grenada as a guide for going forward into the future.
“We think every Grenadian who is eligible to vote will respect the historical significance of the month of October and come out to vote fully on an October day,” he remarked.
The CRAC Chairman being cognizant of the fact that Grenada was in a celebratory mood for the Carnival Season referred to the Calypso sung by former Calypso Monarch, Elwin “Black Wizard” Wizard, “When the Carnival Over”.
According to Dr. Alexis, “when the Carnival over we settle down earnestly to making the constitution better.”
However, he made it clear that he has to seriously engage Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell on making funds available to the committee to start the process of public education.
Mitchell’s cash-strapped New National Party (NNP) administration has been under a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that is being closely monitored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the past three years.
The administration had defaulted on payments due to bondholders and only just started to pay millions of dollars to the creditors under a fund-brokered deal.
Dr. Alexis used the press conference to once again explain what the process of constitution reform means for the island.
He said it is intended to free “ourselves from certain things of the past, sociologically, psychologically, historically, and taking on to ourselves the mantle of full independence.”
Dr. Alexis announced that Supervisor of Elections, Alex Phillip informed him that symbols will be used to identify the various items on the ballot paper for the referendum.
Senior Crown Counsel in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Robert Branch who also spoke at the press conference told reporters that there was no sinister motive in an earlier date being given for the referendum.
He said the delay in an announcement was due to ensuring that everything was done to ensure that the process very credible.
Branch, the Focal Point Person on CRAC, sought to justify why the announcement of the referendum date was done by the committee and not government.
“Generally one would expect the government or the prime minister to make such an important announcement, but it was the desire of the Grenada Government that the (Constitution Reform Advisory) Committee make the announcement,” he said.
“The prime minister, in my understanding, he felt that the committee is the body empowered to drive the process, to lead the process should be the appropriate body to make such an announcement (of the referendum date),” he added.
According to Branch, government intends to allow CRAC, as the lead agent, to drive the public education campaign with resources to be provided by the State itself.
He said that the committee does not intend to lead a “yes campaign” but will concentrate on encouraging persons to vote “yes” for the items to be placed on the Referendum ballot.
“We’re engaging in public education to explain the contents of the Bills to Grenadians so that they understand,” he remarked.
The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Nazim Burke has indicated that it plans to engage in a “no” vote against the referendum due to concerns over the manner in which the process was conducted.
Branch disclosed that CRAC has already made a request to the United Nations for assistance in nine areas including the finalisation of the package of reforms in close collaboration with national stakeholders, as well as ensuring that the revised constitution is explicitly right, providing technical and operational support throughout the process, and establishing a mechanism for the implementation and main streaming of any successful amendment after the referendum.
Some of the UN funds will also be given to Civil Society Groups to conduct public education leading up to Referendum Day.
President of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Bar association, Ruggles Ferguson who is a member of CRAC also addressed the media and solicited the participation of the Grenadian electorate at the referendum.
Ferguson said it is important that all organisations and political parties in the country encourage their members and supporters to participate in the process.
“It’s important that we all engage in public legal education as we run up to the final weeks of this national referendum,” he told reporters.
Under the law, Governor-General, Dame Cecile LaGrenade will now have to issue the writ for the national referendum, to be followed by the Electoral Office getting into an election mood.
The Bills for the referendum which were passed in both Houses of Parliament are the Caribbean Court of Justice and other Justice-Related Matters (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Fixed date for elections, Elections and Boundaries Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Name of State (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Term of Office of the Prime Minister, Ensuring the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition at all times, and Rights and Freedoms (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
The survival of the Bills depends on the eligible voters who participate in the referendum giving each Bill a two-thirds “yes vote.”
The first attempt to change the 1974 Constitution Order was made in 1985 under the former NNP administration of late Prime Minister, H.A Blaize.