By Dr. Francis Alexis
That Grenada at the referendum on 6 Nov 2018 answered negatively the question whether CCJ should be its final appellate court is the responsibility of both the ruling New National Party (NNP) and the opposing National Democratic Congress (NDC). That, too, is in sorry contrast to the profound political will of the Prime Minister, Dr The Rt Hon Keith Mitchell, in popping the question again, following a negative answer in 2016.
To be replayed is that television programme broadcast nationwide on 22 Oct 2018 by Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN), ‘Beyond the Headlines’, hosted by Lew Smith; with three guests. One was Dr Sir Lawrence Joseph; the AG, and as such a Cabinet Member, Chair of the CCJ Advisory Committee; sole negotiator for NNP in talks with NDC for a bi-partisan approach to the referendum (‘the talks’). Another was Claudette Joseph from NDC, a member of the NDC team at the talks. I was the third panellist.
Once the programme got going, NNP and NDC sought to blame the other side for the breakdown of the talks, mainly regarding NDC calls for certain reforms of the election laws.
I as a panellist made it plain that I was not impressed by NNP and NDC blaming one another. I expressly refused to take sides in that unseemly squabble. I urged that there be done whatever was appropriate, within reason, for NNP and NDC to reach an accord to guarantee the country bi-partisanship on the referendum. Otherwise, I warned, voting at the referendum would be along party political lines, jeopardising approval.
But NNP and NDC dug in on their positions, on the programme and across the country, with the vain pride that produces fall.
At the bottom of that valley of divide stood stagnant waters in breeding ground fit for what followed: some Sir Lawrence publicly protested to be ‘blatant lies’. Others bore hallmarks of disinformation, misinformation and negative propaganda.
Even when NNP wins all fifteen seats in Parliament in a general election it never gets sixty per cent of the votes cast. Obviously, then, Grenada would not get sixty-six point seven percent, two-thirds, of the votes validly cast on the referendum needed to approve CCJ when NNP and NDC were throwing grenades at each other.
The imperative necessity for NNP and NDC to reach an accommodation for CCJ was heightened by the unhealthy industrial relations climate deteriorating markedly in the country since doctors and nurses collectively were publicly characterised negatively by the Prime Minister.
On 29 Oct 2018, TUC President Senator Andre Lewis publicly stated that TUC was offering to mediate in brokering a deal between all concerned to give the referendum a chance to succeed. Neither TUC nor anyone else seeing virtue in that TUC offer was afforded a hearing on this.
Next, GUT announced that teachers, protesting whatever, would not be working the day before and the day after the referendum, which indeed happened. The night before the referendum union leaders were on ‘Beyond the Headlines’, spitting fire and brimstone on Government for industrial relation grouses; all of which they blamed on the Government.
In that divisive and poisoned environment, approval at the referendum required either a miracle or supremely genius mobilisation feats by yes-leaders; neither was forthcoming.
Wendy Edmund, who, as a member of the Committee, spoke truth firmly though discreetly, had the consolation of seeing her home parish Carriacou and Petit Martinique weigh in with 897 yes votes against 593 no votes, not two-thirds but not unimpressively. Heroic efforts by others in and around the Committee, chiefly Ruggles Ferguson, but also Robert Branch, Michelle Steele, Lillian Sylvester, Sheldon Scott and Hamlet Mark, valiant as they were, could only be but candles in the wind.
The outcome is not a rejection of CCJ. It is a vote telling leaders they are responsible for what follows when they fail to elevate noble ideals above petty political partisan squabbling. Such failure is more likely when leaders, in the Government and Opposition, do not discern who among their closest advisers are dreaming egotists and who are objective realists.
Now both parties are wailing there are no winners from the referendum. That is so only because both NNP and NDC squandered a unique opportunity to provide Grenada with virtuous nationalistic and patriotic leadership to ensure approval for CCJ. That would have been a glorious legacy for both sides.
Instead, CCJ must wait while, for lack of access to final appellate justice, Grenadians wail.