Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has used his 2014 independence address to put his countrymen on a sate of preparedness for a national referendum aimed at Constitutional reform including the cutting of ties with the British Privy Council in London.
Delivering the traditional address at the national sporting stadium at Queen’s Park in St. George’s on Independence Day last Friday, the Prime Minister stated that as Grenada celebrates its 40th anniversary of independence, the people must come to the realisation that the world has changed.
He said that after 40 years it is time to wean Grenadians of some of the remaining vestiges of colonialism and this is a fitting year for constitutional reform.
He disclosed that a National Advisory Committee on Constitution Reform was set up to spearhead Grenada’s home-grown Constitution and called on all stakeholders to support the initiative.
“Let us seize the moment as we prepare for a referendum on our new Constitution later this year,” Prime Minister Mitchell said as he called on Grenadians to support the New National Party-led administration in its quest “to refine our national identity within a more suitable framework for long term development”.
The island’s leading constitutional legal expert, Dr. Francis Alexis has been asked by the Mitchell government to spearhead the drafting of the new constitution.
THE NEW TODAY has in its possession a document prepared by the Ministry of Finance, headed by the Prime Minister which seeks to affect the status of civil servants through an amendment in the Grenada Constitution to strike out the section which guarantees public officers a full pension by the state in cases of arbitrary removal from their posts.
The document states in part, “The Government will. …seek to amend article 84.8 of the Constitution in its upcoming 2014 review, which is the main impediment to public sector retrenchment due to the guarantee of a full pension to retrenched employees regardless of their time in service”.
Dr. Alexis has represented several persons who had challenged the decision of a previous Mitchell government to remove them from the civil service – one of them is Richard Duncan, the former Accountant-General in the Ministry of Finance and current Manager of the Grenada Co-operative Bank Limited.
Duncan won the case with the court ruling that the State should pay him a monthly pension for the rest of his life.
The island’s trade unions especially those representing public officers in the country are expected to oppose this proposed amendment of the Constitution.
Speculation is rife that the Mitchell government would be forced to engage in some retrenchment of public officers.
The regime has often complained that the fiscal problems facing the country is due mainly to the fact that 70 percent of government revenue is used to pay the salaries of public officers with the remaining 30% used to service the national debt estimated at EC$2.4 billion, leaving the government with little money to spend in other areas of the economy.
In addressing the nation from Queen’s Park, Prime Minister Mitchell said that as he looked back over the years, he can testify that successive governments, his included, made mistakes but believes that they were all part of the growing-up process.
“I accept that these growing pains were all part of the growing up process. Let those experiences be instructive, and let us learn from history and not repeat our errors of the past”, he said.
The Prime Minister told the nation that 40 years is a landmark in Biblical times and that 40 years is enough for Grenada to get it right.
“Forty years, sisters and brothers, is a landmark in Biblical times. Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, until they were able to see the Promised Land. In much the same way, our democracy has struggled to consolidate since the dawn of Independence, but we now see a better day; albeit one that requires shared sacrifices, and our collective responsibility. My friends, 40 years is enough to get it right”, he remarked.
“At 40, we should each be standing on our own two feet and should be taking control of our own destiny. At 40, we should be more open and inclusive in our vision; and more productive in our work. At 40, we should have a clear vision of what will and will not work for us”, he said.
Dr. Mitchell has been the longest serving Prime Minister of Grenada since independence was granted by Britain on February 7, 1974.
He served from 1995 until 2008 and returned again in February 2013 for another five-year term in office.