The 12 least controversial – not sufficient for referendum on Constitutional Reform

by Terence Moore

The National Consultation on the constitutional reform which took place on 15th Oct was a revelation for many Grenadians. And it was a good start on the educational process, but it should not end there. I believe that most of the people who followed the discussions have now begun to understand some of the issues.

However, my problem with the consultation is that in terms of allocation of time much was given to the ‘12 least controversial’ approved to date by Cabinet. Of the 8 or 9 hours spent in the Trade Centre, nearly 7 hours were given to the already approved and only about 1 hour to the 13 other recommendations. It would seem that the focus was on the twelve not on the other 13. By the time the 13 was introduced by Dr Alexis, the Trade Centre was virtually empty.

After listening to the 13 other recommendations, I contend that the criterion of ‘the least controversial’ which the committee used as its criterion is insufficient, and belies the real reason for constitutional reform.  That is why the committee ended up including so much “incidentals”, like adding an ‘e’ to Petit Martinique, not that these things are not important but which may not necessarily need a referendum

To understand what recommendations should be put to the people on referendum day, the purpose for the exercise must be determined and aired. Is it just to be a fulfillment of the NNP manifesto
declarations? Or is it a genuine response to the anamolies, the deficiencies, the gaps of the present constitution? Or is it an exercise to strengthen the constitution so that the political and economic abuses of the past may be corrected?

When asked what was the purpose of the 3 past Constitutional reviews, Dr Larry Joseph simply said “to make changes” to the constitution. I found such an answer very simplistic because one will ask why make changes to our constitution in the first place. It cannot simply be to make changes. There must be a deeper motive for this.

I am contending that consideration of the purpose of constitutional reform must be an integral part of the thinking. Government must explain why this exercise is thought necessary at all. Why not just leave our constitution as is? What is wrong about our constitution that it was decided to modify or reform?

Based on the answer, what is eventually chosen to be put forward to the people will become easier and less of a burden. The criterion of the least controversial as a principle for choice will pale into insignificance and we will not have to bring 64,000 of our people to vote on ‘incidentals’, as Dr Joseph described some of them.

In my view, the 25 recommendations must be examined against the background of 40 years of bad governance, poor economic management, and political and human rights abuses against the people, lack of control of people over their representatives, excessive power of the Prime Minister, corrupt practices, victimisation and tribalism, and lack of patriotism.

Our political history has seen it all; therefore the current constitution needs to be strengthened against such abuses and flaws.

Additional Criteria for choosing the recommendation.

The criterion of the least controversial needs to be beefed up with other more weighty ones derived from our past history. I am therefore suggesting a set of new criteria to be used for deciding on which recommendations to be chosen for the referendum.

These criteria must do the following:

(1). Mitigate excessive power in a parliamentarian/or representative;

(2). Must give people greater say in the governance of the country;

(3). Must ensure that human rights are protected

(4). Must reduce victimisation and favouritism, political tribalism, extreme      greed and corruption;

(5). Increase patriotism, protect heritage and environment

If these criteria are used, they will add weight and substance to the reform exercise, and ensure that the constitutional reform is meaningful. That is why the 13 other recommendations are so important and should be considered as well.

My additional Recommendations

So in order to do these things, I believe that some additional recommendations must be put before the people in a referendum,

(a).  Term limits of PM for 2 consecutive terms, but can come back after a 2 term break;

(b). Campaign finance reform to reduce opportunities for corruption and influence over governing party;

(c). Recall of Representative. This will ensure that parliamentarians are accountable to people.

(d). Local Government, whether Parish Councils or community councils.

This will give greater say to our people on governance

(e). Head of State elected by Parliament

(f). Fixed date for election – people will know in advance,

(g). Unicameral legislature

(h). Independent senators to be selected by Head of State

(I). Proportional representation to ensure voice of an opposition;

In my mind, such additions will strengthen the process and make the referendum more meaningful whatever the date.

The date could be shifted back a bit to enable more discussions and education. But at least, the citizens of Grenada would not be called upon simply to go out there to vote on incidentals.

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