The delivery by the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) of its recommendations for the reform of the Grenada Constitution to the Cabinet of Ministers and the wholesale acceptance of those recommendations by the Cabinet have triggered much public debate and discussion in Grenada on the subject of Constitutional Reform.
The National Democratic Congress was among the first organisations to comment on the Committee’s recommendations. In an address delivered on August 19th 2014, our political Leader, V. Nazim Burke, expressed our party’s concerns both with the process by which the Committee reached its recommendations and the substance of the recommendations themselves. These concerns were further elaborated upon and justified in a Position Statement published by our Party and presented to the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee for its consideration.
The matter of greatest concern to our Party was the fact that the Committee failed or refused to recommend for inclusion on the referendum ballot six (6) issues which were all recommended by previous Constitution Commissions and Bodies to be put to the people in any referendum on Constitution Reform, namely:
– Imposing a time limit on the period during which any one person can remain Prime Minister of Grenada;
– Setting a fixed date for holding elections in Grenada every five years;
– Introducing a system of Proportional Representation to go along with the First Past the Post System for choosing Parliamentary Representatives;
– Having a Parliament with a single Chamber instead of two Chambers;
– Ensuring that Grenada has an Official Opposition Leader at all times regardless of the number of seats won by any one party; and
– Providing for the Governor General to be chosen by an Electoral College of Parliamentarians from the parties represented in Parliament rather than by the Prime Minister alone.
In our address and Position Statement, we strongly expressed the view that while the 12 issues recommended to the Cabinet were proper in their own right, they did not touch the very important, previously recommended issues which had the potential to significantly improve the operation of our democracy and bring it in line with the best practices of modern democracies.
We expressed our genuine concern that not enough consultations had taken place on the issues of Constitutional Reform. We contended that given the limited resources available to us at this time, it would be a waste of time and resources to confine the Referendum to only the 12 issues approved by the Cabinet.
We called for more consultations to determine what issues the people would like to see on the Referendum ballot. We suggested that it would be inappropriate for the Government to hastily and unilaterally choose a date for the holding of the Referendum without taking into account the need for further consultations, the sentiments of other stakeholders and the economic circumstances of the people.
After several radio and television debates and expressions of concern by the public, especially on the call-in radio programs, the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee decided, in its wisdom, to reconsider its position. Not only were there growing calls from the wider public that these six issues must be seriously considered for inclusion, but there was a strong and mounting call to include, along with those six, a recommendation for the right of recall of Parliamentarians by their constituents where the circumstances so warrant.
The Committee agreed and, through its Chairman, publicly communicated its decision to meet as a committee and consider whether it should recommend to the Cabinet for inclusion on the Referendum Ballot, any or all of the six (6) issues raised by our party. In the course of so doing, the Chairman of the Committee repeatedly reassured the public that as far as his committee was concerned “the door was not closed” and will not be closed until the Parliament passes the Law with the proposed constitutional amendments.
As a result of its further deliberations, the Committee, in its wisdom, decided that before making any further recommendations to the Cabinet on the issues to be included on the Referendum Ballot, it would be wise and appropriate to hold a National Public Consultation on Constitution Reform at the Trade Centre on Wednesday, October 15th 2014. It should be noted here that since giving the commitment to reconsider its recommendations, the Committee has already conducted an internal poll among its members on which additional issues members would wish to put before the Cabinet for its further consideration.
It has now become clear to all concerned that the NNP Government does not support the proposed National Consultation and, worse yet, does not intend to entertain any further recommendations from the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee for inclusion of items, other than the original 12, on the Referendum Ballot.
Dr. Mitchell has made his position clear both at the post-Cabinet briefing and in a recent meeting with the Social Partners. It has been reported that the Prime Minister told the meeting of Social Partners that his government will not entertain any other items other than what was approved by Cabinet for the referendum. We are advised that he further went on to say that the National Consultation on Constitution Reform which was announced by the Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Alexis, does not have his blessing.
According to the report received, during that meeting, Dr. Mitchell indicated, in a defiant and sometimes arrogant tone, that the NNP will go it alone and that he was certain that he can attract the 66% plus of the votes to be victorious. He voiced his frustration with the Committee’s apparent willingness to entertain the NDC proposal for 6 additional issues to be put to the People.
It must be noted here that the 6 proposals, though described as the NDC’s proposals, are in fact very important proposals which were identified by previous Constitutional Advisory Committees and for reasons not yet revealed to the public were not included in the recommendations approved by the Cabinet.
Moreover, at the most recent meeting of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, the NNP representative on the Committee, Senator Simon Stiell confirmed this to be his party’s position. At the said meeting, Senator Stiell adamantly argued that as far as the Cabinet and NNP were concerned, the Committee made recommendations and Cabinet accepted. According to him, Cabinet has already decided on the issues that will be included on the Referendum ballot and the Consultation, as they see it, is purely “educational”. Simply put, the position of the Cabinet is that the “door is closed” on the issues that will be put before the people in the Referendum.
The National Democratic Congress considers it absolutely necessary to ensure that the Grenadian public understand and appreciate that it is the Cabinet of Grenada and not the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee that has the authority to decide, and will decide, what issues will be put on the Referendum ballot.
The position of the NNP Government is that “the door is closed” on the issues to be included on the Referendum Ballot. The position of Dr. Alexis (and presumably of the remaining members of the Committee) is that “the door is not closed” on the issues. The problem for Dr. Alexis and the Committee is that they have no say, no authority to determine whether the door is closed or not. The most they can do is recommend to the Cabinet not to close the door as yet. This they have done both publicly and privately but their recommendation has been roundly rejected by the NNP party and Government.
In those circumstances, it is vital that the Grenadian people go into the upcoming consultation with a clear understanding of the respective positions of the Committee and the two major political parties – NNP and NDC – as it relates to the object and purpose of the Trade Centre Consultation.
As we understand it, the Committee’s position is that the door should not yet be closed and that the Trade Centre consultation should be regarded and treated as providing an additional opportunity for the Grenadian people to express their views on which issues should be on the ballot for the referendum on the reform of the Grenada Constitution.
The National Democratic Congress supports and identifies with the position of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee in this regard. We have always maintained that not enough consultations have been conducted to truly and accurately capture the views and sentiments of the Grenadian people on the issue of Constitution Reform. Any other approach would be contrary to the mission of the Constitution Reform Project which is (as set out in the project Document):
” to engender an environment conducive to reform of the Grenada Constitution Order 1973, with the direct consultation of and participation by, the people of Grenada and thus make a national Constitution which has the tangible input of the people, so as to build a better bonding between the people and the Constitution.”
We therefore believe that in holding additional consultations, the Committee is trying to do what is right. Indeed, while the Committee has held some consultations, the Committee itself has publicly lamented the failure or refusal of the Government to provide the necessary financial support to conduct its work. On the Sunday with George Grant Radio Program on August 24th, 2014, Committee Chairman, Dr. Alexis told the listening public that up to that point no financial resources had been given to the Committee other than for out-of-pocket expenses associated with their trip to Carriacou.
In contrast, the NNP Government has adopted a most arrogant and inflexible attitude and approach to the process of Constitution reform. Rather than listening to voice of reason and respecting the will of the people, the Government seems intent on bullying its way to the Referendum.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mitchell and his Cabinet appointed the Committee to advise them on Constitution Reform but now no longer want their best advice on involving the people in the decision- making process.
In our view, such an approach would prove counter-productive and would not be in the best interest of our country. Already, it has been reported that the Consultant hired by the Committee to assist in conducting the consultation has withdrawn his services out of concern that to participate in the process, in the manner it is now structured, would compromise his professional integrity.
We therefore call on the NNP administration to retreat from the position that “the door is closed” on the issues to be included in the Referendum for the reform of the Grenada Constitution.
We specifically call on Prime Minister Mitchell, as the Political leader of the New National Party and Head of the Cabinet of Ministers to publicly renounce that position.
We call on Dr. Mitchell to publicly assure the Grenadian people that, should they so desire, issues which were not among the original 12 recommended by the Committee but which the Grenadian people consider sufficiently important would be included in the Referendum for the reform of the Grenada Constitution.
We call on all patriotic and democratically-minded Grenadians to stand up and let your voices be heard on this most important issue.
COME OUT IN YOUR NUMBERS ON OCTOBER 15TH, 2014 AT THE GRENADA TRADE CENTRE AND SPEAK UP IN DEFENCE OF OUR DEMOCRACY!!!!!
SUPPORT THE CALL FOR INCLUSION OF THE SIX (6) PREVIOUSLY RECOMMENDED ISSUES ON THE REFERENDUM BALLOT