Dr. Alexis talks about Constitutional Reform

Dr. Francis Alexis

Dr. Francis Alexis

The Constitution Reform Committee has so far made one recommendation to the one-year old New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

Head of the committee, Dr. Francis Alexis, a former Attorney-General of Grenada, said it has recommended a change of name in the Constitution for the island’s court system.

“We have written the government already advising that there be a change of the name of the court from the Supreme Court of Grenada and the West Indies Associated States to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court as it is called elsewhere in the Eastern Caribbean and we unanimously agreed on that,” he told The New Today newspaper in an exclusive interview.

According to Dr. Alexis, the recommendation came out of a number of consultations already had by the committee, which is made up of persons from different strata of the society.

The former law lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI) sought to allay the fears of Grenadians by indicating that nothing was amiss with the committee that was appointed by the current leaders to facilitate Constitutional Reform.

Dr. Alexis said that he and his team members are not reinventing the wheel with proposed changes to be made to the constitution.

“We’ve been passed with the baton and we’re running with it as it were and at the same time we’re asking people to give their own views and we are getting a lot of views,” he remarked.

The previous Tillman Thomas-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration had been involved in a series of Constitutional Reform discussions with the late UWI Professor, Dr. Randy Mc Intosh spearheading the exercise.

Dr. Alexis disclosed that his committee has held in excess of five consultations throughout the island and some of the suggestions being made by the public have a lot of merit in them.

“The consultations are showing that increasingly the people are more than interested in Constitution reform. The challenge now really is (to) channel all of these ideas in coming, to get it right in advising the government and if the government is wise in selecting the area for constitution reform, (and) we should be able to go forward happily with everybody,” he said.

He identified the areas of major concerns of the people are term limits for the Prime Minister, as well as curtailing the powers of the Prime Minister, a fixed date for election and holding of Parliamentary sessions.

In addition, he said there are concerns over “whether we’re going to retain Her Majesty as the Head of State, whether we’re going to go Republic with our own President.”

Dr. Alexis also pointed out that during the sessions some persons have raised the issue of the workings of Parliament with specific reference to whether the island should continue with the present two house arrangement or move like some others to the one house concept with elected, non-elected and independents.

Another issue that is said to be occupying the minds of Grenadians is whether to move away from the “first past the post system” or change over to “Proportional Representation” which would always guarantee the presence of a Leader of the Opposition.

The former government minister stated that there is a great deal of support in the sessions in support of Grenada moving away from the Privy Council as its final Court of Appeal and giving the honours to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

“It seems to me that the question of going into the Caribbean Court of Justice is not controversial, meaning that as far as people speak, they are supportive of going into the CCJ,” he said.

According to Alexis, almost everybody is against the idea of the Prime Minister by himself selecting and firing the Governor-General.

He was also asked to comment on whether persons were raising the issue of “same sex marriages” to be constitutionalised.

This, he said would be a matter that will require proper consideration and “the committee (has) not considered it as yet.”

Dr. Alexis stated that one of the most interesting suggestions coming out of the consultations was the issue of integrating the National Constitution with Re-generalisation.

“The constitution of Barbados provides for that meaning if Barbados was to form part of a Federal arrangement with any other member country of the Commonwealth there would be no need to have the two-thirds absolute vote in parliament.

“When the person asked that question, it occurred to me that we should take care of that when we come to make our recommendations to the government.”

Dr Alexis told the New Today that after due consideration is given to the suggestions made by the public and recommendations are made to the government based on the wide-ranging consultations, seven bills will be presented for vote by the public.

He said this was agreed upon based on lessons learnt while in neighbouring St Vincent & The Grenadines in which the Ralph Gonsalves government suffered a defeat in the referendum held on Constitutional Reform.

“There’s a risk that one person might vote against the whole package because he/she might feel strongly about something in there so what we are proposing to do is have a number of bills, separate bills so that people will have a choice if they want to vote for going to CCJ – we will have a bill for that – if you want to have a bill on recall of members of Parliament there might be a bill on that although that might be mixed up with other bills,” he added.

“Controversial subjects like the make-up of Parliament, whether you going to go republic it would be wise not to entangle these issues with non-controversial issues. Let (not) the non-controversial issues suffer from the controversy affecting other bills and everywhere that we go most people think that’s a good idea. We’re going to have separate bills for the people to have choices, the people are saying that makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Dr. Alexis disclosed that once the consultations are over, the committee will then sit down and go through the ideas and decide upon them democratically.

“Depending upon how the votes go, we make the recommendation accordingly to the government and the government takes it from there,” he said.

The ex-government minister anticipates that the referendum will be held no later than February 2015.

Political pundits have already predicted that the Mitchell government might be cautious about a mid-term referendum out of fear that the opposition might seek to use the exercise to try and score political points against the cash-strapped administration.

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