Who is in charge?

A show down could be in the making between the Grenada government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and the Constitutional Review Committee headed by top local constitutional lawyer, Dr. Francis Alexis.

Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY that Prime Minister Mitchell has told a group of Social Partners and their Leaders that his 19-month old New National Party (NNP) administration is not on board with the decision taken by the Alexis-led committee to hold a National Consultation on October 15 to deal with concerns raised by the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) on Constitutional reform.

A source close to the grouping said that the Prime Minister indicated that the Committee has already submitted a report to government and a decision had already been taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to present 12 issues to the population for the referendum planned for early next year.

He quoted the Grenadian leader as saying that the NDC proposals were already discussed and voted upon by the Committee and that there will be no going back to accommodate them.

The source stressed that PM Mitchell was confident that he can get the support of the electorate to go forward with the 12 proposals with or without the support of Congress.

PM Mitchell is believed to be still smarting from his massive 15-0 trouncing of the NDC in the February 2013 poll – the second time that NNP had enjoyed a clean sweep of all fifteen seats in national elections.

The first was in 1999 when it defeated a loose coalition of NDC, the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) of Dr. Alexis.

Congress is adamant that its recommendations as outlined by party leader, Nazim Burke, the former Minister of Finance, should be included and put on the Referendum ballot for the electorate to decide in March 2015.

Following are the six key NDC proposals:

(I). 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 Minister 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

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.

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.

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 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

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.

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.

According to the official, Prime Minister Mitchell dropped hints that government will not be taking part in the planned National Consultation including the funding.

PM Mitchell is also said to have scoffed at the role allegedly given to Consultant Jude Bernard by the committee to help in the mobilisation of people to attend the event planned for the Trade Centre at Grand Anse.

In the past, PM Mitchell has taken pot-shots at Bernard and raised questions about his qualification and competence to be a Consultant.

Dr. Alexis could not be reached for comment on the alleged statements made by PM Mitchell since he was said to be ill.

The head of the Constitutional Reform Committee was once aligned politically with Prime Minister Mitchell as members of the Grenada Democratic Movement (GDM) that provided limited political opposition from outside the country to the New Jewel Movement-led People’s Revolutionary Government of Maurice Bishop that ruled the island with an iron fist between 1979 and 1983.

After the collapse of the Grenada Revolution with the murder of Bishop by his associates and a subsequent U. S-led military intervention in October 1983 to restore democracy, the GDM came into Grenada and joined forces with two other centrists groups to form the New National Party (NNP).

Dr. Alexis who was then Political Leader of GDM was soon left in the political shadows of Dr. Mitchell who landed the influential positions of Minister of Communication & Works and General Secretary of NNP.

In 1989, Dr. Mitchell led a successful challenge for the post of Political Leader of NNP when he defeated the then holder of the post, Prime Minister Herbert Blaize.

Over the last 20 years, Dr. Mitchell has led NNP to electoral victories in four different national polls – 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2013.

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