October 27, 2016, has been designated by the Chairman of the Constitutional Advisory Reform Committee, Dr Francis Alexis as the date for the referendum on constitutional reform.
The Grenadian constitutional referendum would be the second in the OECS, seven years after the failed referendum, which was held in St Vincent and the Grenadines on 25th November 2009.
Both constitutional reform processes were chaired by Dr Alexis, the former political leader of the People’s Labour Movement (PLM). Will the Grenadian referendum result in a 2-0 defeat for Dr Alexis?
For any constitutional referendum to succeed in the OECS, 67% of the electorate must support the proposals. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the ‘Yes ‘ vote, which was supported by the ruling ULP of Ralph Gonsalves, lost with 43.13% of the votes. The ‘No’ vote supported by the opposition NDP was victorious with 59.29% of the vote.
History would show that for any referendum to succeed in the English-speaking Caribbean the proposals must be supported overwhelmingly by the opposition. Given the nature of Caribbean politics of divide and rule, the probability that such referendums would fail is 100%. Very rare there is any form of cooperation between the ruling party and opposition in regional politics.
In my view, however, with the right leadership getting both parties to work together, it is possible once the process is transparent. The Grenadian referendum will fail since the proposals to be voted on don’t have the unwavering support of the ruling NNP or the opposition NDC. Given this fact it bothers the mind why the NNP is rushing through this vote as the structural adjustment program comes to an end?
Ten reasons why the ‘No’ vote would succeed in the upcoming referendum:
(1). Is the economy stupid?
Yes it is. The Grenadian economy is struggling under a massive debt of two billion dollars. The country is under an IMF structural adjustment program. Wages have been frozen and hiring of public workers is at a minimum. The unemployment rate is over 30%, with youth unemployment approaching 60%.
The focus of the NNP administration therefore should be getting the productive sectors of the economy going – agriculture, tourism, manufacturing to bring in the revenues needed to spur economic growth.
The NNP new economy has failed to get off the ground. Keith Mitchell after attacking the IMF ran straight into the claws of the IMF for economic rescue.
The structural adjustment program is a failure and the referendum is timed in such a way as to distract Grenadians from the real economic challenges confronting them. Challenges that definitely would get worse when the program ends in December.
Constitutional reform is needed but it is not a priority at this time. Grenadians are more concerned where their next meal is coming from. The only source of work available is a two-week shift in the debushing program. There is absolutely no economic benefit from this referendum for the Grenadian people.
As you walk along the streets, hundreds of young men and women only recently graduated from the TAMCC and other educational institutions can be seen wandering hopelessly. The NNP administration has no clue how to address this chronic problem facing the country and its young people.
(2). Uncontrolled political interference of the judiciary
Regional leaders are well known to be very intrusive in every aspect of life within their various sphere of influence from the employment of public and private workers the giving of contracts, to the appointment of judges. They are always against anyone that they perceive to be of a different political persuasion. In Grenada this is extremely acute.
The present constitution speaks about the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. It is however a well-known fact that in reality the executive branch of government rules supreme over the other two branches.
The independence of the legislative and judicial arms of the Grenadian government is woefully lacking under the present administration. It is in this context that the majority of Grenadians who have lived under Mitchellism are extremely skeptical and pessimistic about Grenada becoming a member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
History will show that PM Mitchell allegedly influenced the OECS Supreme Court to prevent Justice Brian Alleyne from serving on that court. There are many other allegations where he has tried to use his power to influence the decision of the courts.
Despite all the talk about the independence of the CCJ there is absolutely no litmus test that immunises the CCJ against undue political pressure and influence from Prime Ministers with the tenacity of Mitchell. There is no independent jurist in these Caribbean. As my grandfather would say, “Money talks. Bullshit walks.”
(3) Constitutional Violations:
The current Grenadian constitution has been violated on numerous occasions by Prime Minister Mitchell. The Grenadian people should not legitimise these violations by voting Yes in the referendum. The Prime Minister disrespectfully violated the highest law in the land when he ruled the country in his capacity as a United States citizen. The constitution is extremely clear on this issue.
PM Mitchell should be made to pay back all the monies paid to him during that period because it was unconstitutional for him to receive taxpayers’ monies as a US citizen. Constitutional lawyer Dr Alexis should know better and, instead of colluding with the PM, advise him to apologise to the nation and return all monies to the treasury.
There are many other instances where the PM allegedly violated the constitution. No one is above the law, however, certain members of the power establishment seemingly have a law unto themselves.
Only recently the constitution was allegedly violated by the sitting Governor General when she issued four Knighthoods to British nationals instead of the two specified in the constitution. The actions of these national leaders make Grenada appear to be a ‘Banana Republic’.
On the George Grant program of August 28, 2016, Dr Francis Alexis seems to pretend that he is not aware of the many allegations of the violations of the Grenadian constitution by Mitchell and the NNP.
The most damning violation is Mitchell serving as Prime Minster of Grenada while being a United States citizen. Dr Alexis is prepared to sweep this under the carpet. A clear case of hypocrisy at the highest level.
Then there is the alleged tampering with the Electoral Office by the NNP and its cronies.
The right to ‘free and fair ‘ elections is at the nucleus of our democracy and must be vehemently protected.
Contrary to what Dr Francis Alexis said on that program that the referendum is not about Keith Mitchell, this October 27 referendum is all about legitimisation of the ‘tainted legacy’ of Mitchell.
Win or lose he would be the first to take credit and blame everyone else. That has been his modus operandi for all his political life.
What guarantees are there in the current reform process to ensure that those who violate the constitution are held accountable? Unlike the Vincentian reform process which sought to limit the powers of the Prime Minister, in Grenada this is not so.
(4). Lack of commitment on the part of PM Mitchell, his administration and the Constitutional Advisory Reform Committee. The pronouncement that the referendum isn’t political is a fallacy and a big joke. All the bills to be voted on were selected and crafted by the Cabinet and Parliament controlled by the NNP.
Alexis himself has stated his frustrations with the process, however as the Chairman of the committee he has refused to resign, seemingly motivated by his ego, financial considerations and CCJ. He is fully aware of the long-term benefit to himself as an astute legal luminary.
Lest anyone fool themselves, politics is an integral part of the process.
The Prime Minister appears to be lying low leading up to the referendum but will pounce like a prowling tiger on any success. In the public he is keeping a low profile, however, behind the scenes he is ensuring that he gains politically from the process.
The Prime Minister is a political animal. He knows for a fact that the probability of the referendum being a failure is high and so he sits back and is happy to see his onetime political foe Alexis in the firing line. Dr Alexis is so used to political failure that he too has nothing to lose.
The main stakeholders involved in the process lack the passion, energy and commitment and so the general electorate is not motivated.
(5). The country is too politically, socially and economically divided:
It is rather foolhardy to force a referendum on the country that is so politically divided. Prime Minister Mitchell made a 360-degree turn from what he has said in his speeches in the aftermath of his landslide election victory. His call for national unity and reconciliation was only ‘sweetened’ words since his actions are in total contradiction to his words.
The ideal condition for constitutional reform in these politically divided islands is a situation where there is a strong parliamentary opposition. Holding a referendum in a state where ‘democratic dictatorship’ runs supreme is aimed at political expediency and mileage.
Constitutional reform is too important a process to be playing sinister political games. The lack of trust by thousands of Grenadians in the Prime Minister on one hand and the high-handedness of the Prime Minister on the other are just making a complete mockery of the process and in my opinion a complete waste of taxpayers’ scarce dollars.
Apart from the political battles between NNP and NDC, there is a serious PR war between the ruling NNP administration and sections of the private sector, especially GRENLEC.
The NNP government is waging a serious battle against the lone energy provider. This battle is creating serious political, social and economic instability in the country and will certainly escalate in the weeks and months going forward.
The climate in the country is just not conducive for a referendum on such a serious issue as constitutional reform.
(6). Education and Health Care Reform National Priority:
Grenada’s health care system is in a serious crisis. This NNP administration has neglected health care. The number of deaths in the country from various forms of diseases is unprecedented. Only recently a young man died after being shot in the leg from an alleged lack of proper care.
The zika virus is wrecking havoc in the various communities with hundreds of persons affected.
The response to this outbreak by the NNP has been lacklustre. Government needs to set up a task force to deal with this epidemic. Grenadians are more concerned with addressing their health concerns than being forced into a referendum. If this epidemic continues many of the voters will be disenfranchised by being unable to go to a polling station as a result of being affected by the zika virus.
The national health care scheme under the leadership of ‘turncoat’ Chester Humphrey seems to have stalled. Having lost the presidency of TAWU, Humphrey’s vocal cords have gone mute and so is the health care plan. The NNP administration needs to fix the health care system and save Grenadian lives before forcing a referendum down their throats.
Like health care, Grenada’s education system needs to be reformed.
The infrastructure for the education of the nation’s students needs to be improved and upgraded. Too many schools are lacking in furniture and other equipment.
The NNP has abandoned the free schoolbooks program and replaced it with absolutely nothing. The tablets promised to the students is a lie and the government’s only initiative for the opening of the new school term is the ‘fogging’ of all schools to address the mosquito issue plaguing the state.
The 2016 CSEC results should be a major concern to the Ministry of Education. There were over 5,000 grades four and five. More and more students are leaving school unable to read and write. How would this referendum assist these students?
There are too many fundamental problems facing the nation that need urgent attention before this referendum. Maurice Bishop and the PRG built the international airport, created the NIS, expanded agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, established the national transport system, built a number of schools, improved health care, reduced the unemployment rate and gave Grenada a sense of self worth and international pride under a suspended constitution.
I am in no way in agreement with the suspension of the nation’s constitution but what Grenada needs more than ever is a complete reform of the brains of the septuagenarians running the country.
(7). Unprecedented Youth Unemployment and Lack of Participation in the process:
Mitchell is employed and worth over 19 million, Alexis is employed and probably worth millions. So too are Ruggles Ferguson and Mr. Robert Chance. These men and their families are well looked after and know where their next meal is coming from.
Michael, Mary, Jim, Corrine, Kisha and John Doe are youths all unemployed since 2013. They all voted for the NNP under the premise that they will get a job once the party won the election. Youth unemployment in Grenada is at an all time high. The priority of the NNP administration should be combating this scourge. Why should the nation’s youth support a referendum that will not address their problems in any meaningful way? Just don’t make any sense.
The government needs to get its priority straight. The nation’s youth need to be empowered, not enslaved.
(8). Lack of regional solidarity and support:
Grenada is a member of the OECS and CARICOM yet no regional Prime Minister has openly expressed their support for the referendum process in Grenada. While the referendum is an internal issue it will have wide ranging implications for the other Caribbean islands.
Grenadians need to ask themselves why is it that there is very little or no regional support for the referendum. The island seems to be operating in isolation. Regional leaders have their own problems and can’t care less about what happens in Grenada.
(9). Poor Governance, Lack of Transparency and Accountability:
Grenada is governed by a dictatorial administration that uses the power of the state to stifle dissent. The NNP administration continues to manipulate all the democratic institutions including the Electoral Office, RGPF and the media. Free speech is stifled, with many media personnel in the pocket of the administration.
The Citizenship by Investment program isn’t transparent. The situation with the Chinese investor, Charles Liu is a case in point.
The bills down for referendum are too trivial and won’t address corruption in government.
Given the numerous allegations of corruption against the NNP over the years, any constitutional reform should seriously address this issue.
Grenada is seen as one of the most corrupt countries in the Caribbean. It is not a coincidence that two of the most corrupt countries in the OECS, Grenada and Antigua, have their referenda on the same date.
Senators should not be nominated. They should be elected by the people to have more accountability, independence and good governance.
The current arrangement is a pure rubber stamp.
(10). Protection of the rights and freedoms of Grenadians:
This bill doesn’t go far enough. Too many Grenadians have been victimised and discriminated against by Mitchell and the NNP. The constitution reform bill should protect citizens against the whims and fancies of unscrupulous and vindictive politicians.
The notion that politicians can wage an economic war against those who they perceive as an opponent is baseness. Only recently allegations were leveled against the Ministry of Education to subvert the process of hiring employees who are politically aligned to the ruling NNP.
Constitution reform should protect citizens’ right to work and serve their country without political interference.
The recall of politicians should be an integral part of the process.
No piecemeal reform is acceptable. Given the many challenges and problems faced by the people, radical reform is needed.
In conclusion, constitutional reform may be overdue and needed, however given the Grenada’s current circumstances it is not a priority at this time. A ‘No’ vote will send a very powerful message to the powers-that-be. They either put up or get out and make way for a new dispensation.
This current crop of ministers has outlived their usefulness. They are full of inertia. They lack the energy to move the country forward.
Time for a positive change.
Come October 27, vote NO on all bills. Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique deserve much better.