Trade Minister assures counterparts of Grenada’s commitment to regional integration

Minister for Economic Development, Trade and Planning, Oliver Joseph has said that the people’s rejection of the bill for the country to adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate court in last week Thursday’s historic Referendum poll, should not be interpreted to mean that Grenadians are not for regional integration or supportive of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Addressing his counterparts at the opening of the third Meeting of the Economic Affairs Council (EAC) at the Radisson Beach Hotel in Grand Anse on Monday, Minister Joseph gave reassurances that the “Grenadian civilisation fully accept our rights and obligations with the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Economic Union”.

“In other words, I do not want you to look at the results of the Referendum and think that Grenadians do not support regional integration,” he said, adding that “Grenadians are just as committed to the OECS effort post-referendum as they were prior to the referendum to reassure his counterparts.”

Grenada’s Ambassador to CARICOM, Dr. Patrick Antoine also commented on the Referendum results in an interview with THE NEW TODAY prior to the start of the meeting.

Like Minister Joseph, he also expressed the view that the rejection of the CCJ bill in particular, should not be mistakenly reflected as a lack of Grenada’s commitment to regional integration.

He said that “based on the results, data analysis has to be undertaken regarding the precise factors for first of all, the low turnout and secondly, the way in which the seven bills were received by the population and the electorate.”

“We need to be cautious until we understand what are the reasons (for the failed process), withdrawing implications from the results”, he remarked.

According to Dr. Antoine, from a theoretical standpoint with a Referendum turnout of 32% amounting to only 22, 000 out of 71,241 eligible voters casting ballots “one has to raise the question of whether we have a truly representative sample”.

“What I think is true though (is) that the 68% that stayed away, that statistic is quite telling and there will be no doubt various reasons – which is why I say the analysis has to be done to see to what extent various factors as we believe them to be would have played a role.

“It seems that one of the factors that we have to look at is whether in fact the persons eligible to vote felt that they were sufficiently educated on the issues that were contained in the seven bills as it was encapsulated it in the referendum. So I think persons feeling that they did not have sufficient information, is certainly one factor that we have to look at.

“To say that we have had 300 consultations over two years that is measuring basically the input. The output in terms of how it was received by the persons eligible to vote when many of them are saying we still don’t understand is a voice we need to listen to…and what that does is that if we are to pick up what percentage of the electorate stayed away for the reason that they did not understand the bills, it will cause us to ask ourselves to engage them more effectively.

Dr. Antoine, who was appointed as Chief Policy Advisor on Finance, Planning, Trade and Economic Development by the Keith Mitchell-led government in 2013 stated that another factor in the mix for consideration is that a person might have stayed away from the poll “because they were unsure whether they should vote yes or no”.

“Perhaps we need to ask the question (if) there is a way to make such a person more informed so that they could have decided more definitively or more clearly what it is they wanted to do when they voted should they have voted,” he said.

According to Dr. Antoine another possible factor “is whether people who stayed away were saying that this is not a priority for me at this time.”

He pointed out that a determination must also be made in relation to “how much of the persons who stayed away were really signaling that this (the Referendum) was not a priority.”

Referencing the Rights and Freedoms Bill, which deals with gender equality among other human rights and had generate a lot of debate leading up to the poll, the trade expert suggested that other factor could be at work.

Dr. Antoine explained that this is “where persons would have been satisfied with one of the bills (but) because there was a strong dissatisfaction with one of the bills it would have spilled over into all seven bills so they voted no anyway…so you have as it was this protest vote which would have contaminated their perception on other things”.

“So I think we need to do an analysis of that to see how much of the spillover effect we would have had”.
Dr Antoine, who is involved in the development of the national strategic development plan 2030 for government lamented the fact that one needs “to understand what the “no” vote means for each of the (Referendum) bills,” since there are lessons to be learnt from the failed process.

“We need to learn from this process as well, so that when people say to you, look, we still don’t understand, no matter how much it takes you, you have to find a way to engage them,” he said.

THE NEW TODAY also spoke with Director of Economic Affairs and Regional Integration at the OECS Secretariat, Dr. Brian Francis who expressed the view that “the time has come for us in Grenada and probably the wider Caribbean to start distinguishing between political issues and the issues of national significance.”

He sees Constitutional reform, as clearly “a national issue and it is a real pity that the political parties in Grenada did not come together and reach a consensus on the way forward”.

“I think if that had happened the outcome could have very well been quite different”, he remarked.

According to Dr. Francis, the government cannot achieve national consensus by itself and would have “to stretch out the olive branch to the opposition party and the opposition party in turn should have accepted based on their input in the matter … and that clearly didn’t happen”.

The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) had pulled out from the Constitutional reform process pointing to several flaws.

Last week Friday, Deputy Political Leader of NDC, Joseph Andall told reporters that one of the flaws was in the improper use of funds that were provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for public education on the bills.

“There were instances where groups of young people went out into different constituencies supposedly to help educate the population about the Referendum process and in several cases the questions begun with how do you evaluate the performance of your MP (Member of Parliament) and a number of people were quite turned off and even offended by that approach”, he said.

“So we believe that an opportunity was squandered by the government to engage in genuine educational outreach regarding the process in pursuit of narrow partisan gain,” he added.

Andall also contended that “the unfortunate thing about this just ended process was that the authorities moved into it as if someone was holding a gun to their head saying to them you need to finish it by this time or else I will pull the trigger.”

Head of CRAC, Dr. Francis Alexis also told THE NEW TODAY on Monday that there is need “to adopt a system that exist in North America where people do exit polling because that will give us precise information that is needed to determine why people voted the way they voted”.

“As it is now we don’t know, we could only speculate so I think this is something that we need to implement going forward”, he remarked.

He said “it is interesting to find out what exactly does the “no” vote mean, and wondered whether “it’s a case where people objected to the process or where people are against Constitutional reform or is it a protest vote.”

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