Burke: Consider young persons for position of Ombudsman

Political leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nazim Burke is appealing to the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to consider young people for the vacant position of Ombudsman.

The former Finance Minister who is a Senator in the Grenada Parliament made the call during a sitting of the Upper House last week Monday.

Burke was making his contribution to the debate on a motion to amend Section 36 (2) of the Ombudsman Act CAP 218 B to reduce the salary of the Ombudsman from $15,000.00 to $6,000.00 per month.

The Congress leader is one of three NDC executive members who were appointed as Senators by ex-Governor General, Sir Carlyle Glean following the 2013 General Election in which the party lost all 15 seats to Mitchell’s NNP.

In his contribution to the motion as presented by Leader of Government Business, Kenny Lalsingh, the NDC Political Leader expressed support for the motion saying that there had always been concerns regarding the salary of an Ombudsman and that he himself felt it was too high.

The $15, 000 a month salary allocated to the Ombudsman is much higher than that of the Prime Minister and Ministers of government.

Sen. Burke urged the Mitchell administration to give young people an opportunity to apply and be accepted for the job of Ombudsman.

He told the Senate he understood that applications are being received to fill the vacant position of Ombudsman and that retirees are currently being considered by government for the position left vacant by former Cabinet Secretary, Agar Alexander.

“Please consider young people and not retirees for the job”, Burke pleaded with the ruling administration.

According to the Congress leader, some young people are highly qualified, trained and capable of doing the job of Ombudsman and that there are many positive benefits to be derived from hiring young people to fill some of the vacancies that exists with government-owned institutions.

Speculation is rife that a retired female Cabinet Secretary is among a list of persons short-listed for consideration to fill the vacancy.

Burke called on the NNP Government to harness the talent and energy of young people and not recycle retirees within the service.

However, his plea was quickly responded to by Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Senator Simon Stiell who said that the job of an Ombudsman requires someone with maturity and experience.

The junior minister stated that the job is open to all applicants who meet the necessary criteria and that the best-qualified person will be selected to do the job.

Senior civil servants Wilfred Hercules, who held the post of  Investigating Officer within the Office of the Ombudsman was appointed to act as Ombudsman after the departure of Alexander.

However, Hercules vacated the position within the past year.

Newly retired Clerk of Parliament, Raphael Donald has been appointed to act as Ombudsman pending the appointment of a fulltime person.

The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has dropped strong hints that it might boycott next year’s planned Referendum to amend the Grenada Constitution.

Congress leader, former Finance Minister Nazim Burke addressed the nation on Constitutional Reform and outlined several concerns, which the party has with the process that was used to come up with the issues that will be placed on the Referendum ballot.

In the address, Burke alluded to several fundamental issues which the NDC would like to see put before Grenadians including term limits for the Prime Minister and for some form of Proportional Representation in the Parliament.

Last week, THE NEW TODAY brought part 1 of the Burke address, which focused on some of the Congress concerns with the report submitted to government for consideration by the Dr. Francis Alexis-led Committee.

Following is the second and final part of the address of Burke that took place on August 12, 2014:

SUMMARY OF NDC’s CONCLUSION ON THE REPORT

Having carefully reviewed and considered the contents of the Committee’s Report and its recommendations, we of the NDC feel constrained to state, without equivocation,  that in our view, the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of  the most important and substantive issues that must be addressed in any constitutional reform. Instead it focuses, somewhat disproportionately, on   changes which, while proper, will not materially affect the operation of our constitutional democracy.

Moreover, the process adopted and followed by the committee in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations to the Cabinet  fell short of what can reasonably be expected.

It is not clear from the Report what operating principles guided the committee in its work. However, the NDC is strongly of the view  that the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of the most salient and substantive issues that must be addressed in any meaningful reform of the Grenada Constitution. In this regard, we feel compelled to make specific mention of the following six (6) issues:

I. Term Limits for the Office of Prime Minister…

First, the issue of Term Limits for the Office of Prime Minister.

The Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) of  2006 made the following recommendation in respect of  Term Limits for the Office of Prime Minister: That the Constitution be amended to provide that “no person should hold the office of Prime Minister for more than two five-year consecutive terms.”

The NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

II. Fixed Date for Holding General Elections

Second, the powers of the Prime Minster with respect to the calling of General Elections. The Constitution Commission of 2006 concluded and recommended that the Prime Minister should no longer be able to call “
snap elections” and that “a specific date for holding general elections should be set by the Constitution”

Again, the NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental  importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

III. Proportional Representation in Parliament

Third, the issue of Proportional Representation (PR) in Parliament.

This addresses the issue as to whether, in addition to the Elected Constituency Representatives, each political party contesting the elections should be given the opportunity to send one or more Representatives to the Parliament based on the percentage of the popular vote that party gets in the elections.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the rationale underpinning all Proportional Representations systems is to consciously reduce the disparity between a party’s share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats.

If a major party wins 40 per cent of the popular votes but wins no seat in the general election for Constituency Representatives, it should nevertheless have representatives in the Parliament so as to ensure that those 40 percent of the electorate who chose not to vote for the winning party still have a voice in the Parliament.

In its Report the Constitution Commission of recommended that the Parliament should comprise of four categories of Members, namely, Constituency Representatives, Proportional Representation Members,
Nominated Members or Senators and a local Government Representative.

In his Draft Constitution, Professor Mc Intosh also recommended the First three categories of members. Since we already have Constituency Representatives and Senators in our constitutional arrangement, the crucial question here is whether the membership of Parliament should be changed so as to introduce Proportional Representation.

Once again, the NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

IV. Constitutional Requirement for an Opposition Leader at All Times

Fourth, the need for Grenada to have an Opposition Leader at all times. The Constitution Commission of 2006 suggested an increased role for the Leader of the Opposition and specifically recommended that some important functions should be performed by the Opposition Leader, such as sharing with the Prime Minister appointment of persons to key positions in the public service.

Such an increased role can only be guaranteed if, constitutionally, the   office of Opposition Leader is occupied at all times regardless of the outcome of the general elections for Constituency Representatives. This will best be achieved if the Constitution provides for a Proportional Representation Member to become the Opposition Leader, if one party, regardless of which one, wins all of the seats in the general elections for Constituency Representatives.

The NDC therefore takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

V. A Bicameral or Unicameral Chamber of Parliament

Fifth, the issue of whether the chamber of our Parliament should be bicameral or unicameral. Simply put, this addresses the question whether our Parliament should be comprised of two separate chambers (one for the Elected Representatives (MP’s) and the other for the nominated Representatives (Senators) or whether it should be comprised of a single chamber where both sets of Members meet together to conduct the business of Parliament.

While both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, it is generally accepted that the unicameral system is better suited to small nations and has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of conducting the business of Parliament to the government and to taxpayers.

In its Report, the 2006 Constitution Commission recommended that The National Assembly (Parliament) should be comprised of a single (unicameral) chamber.




The NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

VI. Election and Tenure of the Head of State

Finally, the election and tenure of the Head of State.  In its report the Constitution Commission of 1985 recommended, after nationwide consultations, that whether there is a Governor General or a President as our Head of state, that person should be chosen by an Electoral College of all Parliamentarians together with the Chairpersons of the District Boards and the Council for Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

The NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

The positions we have adopted on these issues are informed not only by the fact that they were all recommended, after extensive public consultations, to be put to a Referendum by the previous Constitutions of 1985 and 2006 but also because there are very sound reasons to believe that Grenada’s constitutional democracy may be strengthened by such reforms.

Moreover, there is nothing in the Committee’s Report to indicate or suggest that public sentiments have changed on these issues and that they are no longer of fundamental concern to the populace.

Sisters and Brothers, Constitutional issues are weighty issues. Time will not allow us to go into the details and justifications for each of these issues in this address. With this in mind, we have developed a more detailed statement setting out in full the basis of our position.

This statement is being published for the widest distribution and public scrutiny.

CONCLUSION ON THE “SALIENT AND SUBSTANTIAL ISSUES”

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is important to reiterate, at this juncture, that our desire and expectation to have these issues addressed in the Constitutional Reform Process was made known at every available opportunity.

We did so at the initial meeting held between our Party Leadership and the Chairman of the Committee at our Offices; I, as Political Leader did so at the Launch of the Project; and our Representative on the Committee (Mr. Tillman Thomas, Former Prime Minister) did so at Committee meetings and public consultations held around the country.

Moreover, calls for these issues to be addressed were repeated and reinforced by members of the public in the public consultations, some of which were televised.

For us, it is also important that we expressly and publicly acknowledge that some of the issues addressed in the Committee’s Report are salient and substantial and were quite rightly recommended to the Cabinet as ones to be put to the people in any Referendum.

Without intending to be exhaustive here, these include Grenada’s accession to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ; the establishment of an Electoral and Boundaries Commission; the inclusion of the names of Carriacou and Petite Martinique in the name of the State and the refinement of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution.

We take the position, however, that if time, effort and resources are going to be spent on the holding of a Referendum on Constitutional.

Reform then the proposed reforms must address the major gaps and ambiguities identified by the 1985 and 2006 Constitution Review Commissions.

This is the stated purpose of the Constitution Reform Project. In particular, we are of the view that these six issues- not recommended to the Cabinet as ones to be put to the Referendum- are so fundamental to the operation of our Constitutional democracy, that it would be a misallocation of time, effort and resources to go to a Referendum to alter the Constitution without addressing these issues.

Sisters and Brothers, I am sure you would agree with me that we definitely cannot afford  the wanton waste of state resources at a time when resources are so scarce.

ISSUES OF PROCESS

Turning to the issues relating to the process that was followed by the Committee in arriving at its recommendations, we see four (4) fundamental problems.

First of all, as we understood it, a clear undertaking was given to the public by the Chairman of the Committee that after putting together its proposed recommendations, the Committee would hold public consultations on those recommendations before taking them to the Cabinet for its consideration and determination. That was not done.

In our view, discussing the proposed recommendations with the stakeholders prior to submitting them to the Cabinet would have greatly increased the transparency and credibility of the process and significantly enhanced the atmosphere of consensus.

Secondly, in addressing the Proposals considered by it, the Committee reported in paragraph 14 of its Report that a vote took place among Committee members on July 3rd and July 7, 2014 to determine which
Constitutional Reform Proposals coming before the Committee would be recommended to the Cabinet as ones to be put to the public in the Referendum.

There is nothing in the Committee’s Report to indicate or suggest that   before exercising a vote for and in the name of its constituent organisations, committee members sought and obtained the views  of the members and stakeholders of constituent groups, which these committee members represented on the Committee.

Without picking on any one individual or organisation and simply by way of example, one might pose the question: before voting yes or no on any of these Proposals did the representative of the Grenada Bar Association first present these  proposals to the members of the bar, indicating the Committee’s intention to vote on these proposals for recommendation to Cabinet and asking them how they might like him to vote?

Before voting yes or no on any of these recommendations, did the representative of the Trade Union Council first present these Proposals to the Trade Union Council or the individual trade unions, indicating the Committee’s intention to vote on these recommendations and asking them how they might like him to vote?

In our view, such a step was critical to the integrity of the process and  ought to have been taken  if the desired  atmosphere of consensus were to be achieved. The failure of representatives to take that step and the failure of the Committee to require and treat that step as a fundamental one throws the credibility of the voting exercise and the recommendations flowing there from into serious doubt.

Thirdly, in our view, the decision of the Committee to base its conclusions to recommend or not recommend a Proposal to the Cabinet as one to be put to the Referendum should not necessarily be based on a simple majority vote among them.

To proceed on the basis of simple majority vote in relation to all of the proposals fails to take into account other important factors and considerations that may be relevant.

For example, in the voting exercise, it may have been useful to consider what weight may be attributed to the proposals that were already recommended by previous Constitution Commissions and whether a threshold lower than a majority vote could be applied to those recommendations.

Finally, while the Committee was comprised of fourteen (14) persons (the Chairman and thirteen other persons representing various stakeholders groups), the Report reveals that there was not a single
occasion, in the voting process on these 25 proposals, when all fourteen members exercised a vote.

One proposal (number 21), had three parts. Thus for all intents and purposes one can say that there were 27 proposals to be considered. Of these 27 proposals, Twelve of the fourteen persons voted on 5 of them. This represented the maximum number of persons who chose to vote on any single proposal. Eleven persons voted on another 5 proposals, Ten persons voted on another 5 proposals; Nine persons voted on 3 of the proposals; only Eight persons voted on 7 of the proposals ; Seven persons (fifty percent of the members of the committee) voted on 1 of the proposals and only 4 persons (twenty eight percent of the members of the committee) chose to exercise a vote on 1 of the proposals.

Ladies and Gentlemen, no explanation was offered by the Committee in its Report for the apparent failure or refusal of members to participate in the vote on these proposals.

It has been reported that certain members of the Committee neither  attended meetings on a regular basis nor participated in the deliberations of the Committee.

It can hardly be forgotten that those who were called upon to vote were called to do so in their representative capacity.

Sisters and Brothers, too much is at stake. What is at issue here is whether or not to uproot and replace the entrenched provisions of our supreme law, as conceived and articulated by our founding fathers forty years ago.

Such a decision calls for the highest level of personal responsibility and commitment on the part of those charged with such duty and cannot be coloured by indifference, narrow considerations of historical legacy or political expediency.

The apparent lack of adequate participation by Committee members in the deliberations of the Committee casts an inescapable shadow of doubt on the completeness of the recommendations submitted to and approved by the Cabinet.

NDC POSITION

In its Report, the Committee indicated that the projected cost of the Grenada Constitution Project is $2,046,928.00.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this project comes at a time when Grenadians are still reeling from the barrage of taxes, duties, charges and fees that have been forced upon them by this Government.

Not only have their disposable incomes sharply reduced but they must face higher prices in the supermarkets and in their utility bills. With close to 40 percent of our people living in poverty and unemployment close to 35 percent, these poor families are called upon by the NNP Administration to make more sacrifices.

As we speak, our hospital plant is in a state of abject disrepair and basic medicines are in desperately short supply. As the new school year approaches, mothers and fathers who have no incomes are terrified as to how they would provide for the needs of their young children.

As a nation, we cannot callously turn our backs on these families. If we are going to spend millions of dollars on Constitutional Reform at this time, it must be money well spent.

We simply cannot afford to do otherwise. We can find no justification for treating with the required Constitutional Reforms in a haphazard manner.

In these circumstances, and having regard to our present economic situation and the attendant financial burden on the resources of the state, the National Democratic Congress will neither support the proposed Constitutional Reforms in its present construct nor the holding of a  National Referendum  for that purpose.

We have already met with the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee and communicated these concerns to him. In the coming days, we shall formally convey our position to him in writing.

It is regrettable that it has come to this but, as John Roberts noted in relation to the American Constitution, “by ensuring that no one in government has too much power, the Constitution helps protect ordinary
[Grenadians] every day against abuse of power by those in authority.”

To that end, the National Democratic Congress will support any and all Constitution Reform initiatives which fully take into account the recommendations of previous Constitution Commissions and adopt a
process which affords the best opportunity to capture the sentiments of the widest cross section of the people of  Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique on this most fundamental issue.

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