The Grenada Constitution Reform (GCR) exercise which had been creeping for quite a while suddenly began moving at astounding speed. Unfortunately, most people are still not clear about the need for reform. It may be that I have not followed the proposition closely enough. However, it is surely not due to any monarchist predilections or opposition to change; for change is the only constant.
Articles of the constitution relating to specific problems, need to be re-examined periodically and changes made if necessary. Hence, I identify closely with American writer, Denis Waitley when he said, ‘You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler’. In other words, critical analysis must precede changes. Actions must be questioned.
Like many of us, I do not like to write. However, I have come to recognise that we should not let this momentous occasion pass without our concern. I feel constrained to ask, what are the purposes of making changes to a Constitution in a Democracy? Shouldn’t the purposes be only to better guarantee the rights of people and to improve governance? Why then is it absolutely necessary to install a local President as Head of State and a regional Court of Justice to accomplish these goals?
Have we suffered any loss or are we less independent because of our present framework? Has this constitution contributed to economic and social stagnation, uncontrollable national debts, and unsustainably large energy bills, etc? Do we think it is still useful and is it the intention to remain in the Commonwealth of Nations?
Of the 53 independent and sovereign states that comprise the Commonwealth of Nations, sixteen of them including Canada, Australia and Barbados retain the Queen as their head of state. The constitutions of those mentioned are generally similar to Grenada’s. The hallmarks of these countries with their larger populations, natural resources, abundance of scholars and intellectuals are their stability, relative prosperity and good governance.
Canada in particular is often cited in many studies as the best place on earth to live. The ideal of good governance is particularly important in order that a Constitution in a democracy play its role in the quality of life, prosperity and well-being of a people.
Transparency International observed that ‘Corruption and economic turmoil often go hand-in-hand’. Is it useful to consider this observation or to draw parallels with the three countries mentioned above, in this discussion on Constitution reform?
I’ll find a beginning and begin with these questions. What is wrong with the Constitution? Are we ascribing our shortcomings, weaknesses and/or failures to the Constitution? Or, are there issues of mismanagement and disrespect to the constitution? Shouldn’t we be terrified that we might fix the wrong thing, if we do not first identify the problem?
Main issues in GCR: The Grenada government has set a date for several referenda, intended to guarantee a win in this GCR effort. The two most important outcomes that government intends to achieve in this reform exercise are: (i) Removal of the Queen (represented by the Governor General) as Head of State and replace her with a local President (ii) Remove the Privy Council as our Court of last resort and replace it with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Others are mainly incidentals, sweeteners.
The main opposition party supports GCR but it is pressing to include: (i) proportional representation, (ii) A unicameral Chamber, ( iii) Guarantees for a constant Opposition Leader in Parliament, (iv) Recall of Representatives, (v) Term Limits of Prime Ministers, (vi) Fixed Dates of Elections.
There are probably forty (40) other issues, most of which are either already addressed or can be adequately addressed in other legislations.
Missing from the above discussion are: (i) Powers of the proposed President, (ii) Powers of the Prime Minister, (iii) Duration and Terms of Office, (iv) Methods of selection, (v) Will our basic Rights and Freedoms be affected and if so, in what ways?, (vi) Accountability and sanctions, (Vii) Do the events of 1983 have or should they have any impact on this exercise?, Why is St.Vincent’s failed CR exercise and winning the vote, so prominent in this conversation? Shouldn’t it be only about ensuring deep understanding and the future good of the people?
Is there any intention to cause all the facts including, all the pros and cons of this exercise to be dispensed to the people, so that they may be able to make informed decisions? Or are there many undisclosed things to be imposed, after the vote? Is it possible that we have a whole nation with no dissenting viewpoint except attorney Lloyd Noel? How about our intellectuals, experts and critical examiners? Has there been critical analysis, professional debates, especially as it relates to the contents and validity of the present constitution?
Consensus for Reform: Although the thrust towards constitution reform started many years ago, it is probably safe to guess that over 90% of Grenada’s population has never read a word in our Constitution document. Suddenly, it seems that everyone is in support of reform and they all want to put in something.
This layman’s opinion is that constitutions principally contain broad rules/laws for which ordinary legislation cannot take care. What specific things need changing? What’s the rationale? How would these proposed changes affect us? Negative answers to these questions will be an indication that the apparent consensus for Reform is probably flawed and is borne out of a lack of clarity and knowledge of the constitution.
It is for this reason I support the call by Mr. John Rullow that there should be broader education and rigorous debates on our present constitution before embarking on the ‘much needed reform’.
Definition of a constitution: At a recent ‘Consultation’ held at the Grenada Trade Centre, Dr. Lawrence Joseph made a very sober, scholarly presentation. In it, he gave a definition of a constitution which approximates ‘a set of laws or rules by which a people agree to live and be governed’.
By this definition, one may extrapolate, among other things, that a desire on the part of those who govern to change the constitution may be construed to be an indication that they are dis-satisfied by the way in which they have governed and the governed not satisfied at the way in which they have been governed. Is the constitution to be blamed or should the manner of governance over the years be re-examined?
Purposes of a constitution: It is doubtful that most people understand what constitutes a constitution and the main provisions of our present constitution. The basic purposes of a constitution in a democracy, I contend, are to guarantee individual Rights and Freedoms. Everything else, including the system/structure of government is instruments in support of these basic Rights and Freedoms.
Our constitution sets out these as follows: PROTECTION OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS: Whereas every person in Grenada is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely- :
The Right to life – Freedom of conscience
The Right to liberty – Freedom of expression
The Right to security of each person – Freedom of assembly
The Right to protection of the law – Freedom of association
The Right to protection for the privacy of his home
The Right to protection of any other property that he owns
The Right to protection from deprivation of property without compensation
The Right to work
The Constitution document contains detailed explanations on each of the above. It does seem that all rights and freedoms of everyone; Christians and non-Christians, gays and straight, wealthy, poor, scrunters, et al, are guaranteed. Or can someone point out the deficiencies or which of the above is no longer relevant?
(To be continued)