The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has pulled out of the committee appointed by government to pave the way for amendments to be made to the island’s Constitution.
Party leader, Nazim Burke dispatched a letter to this effect Monday to head of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), Dr. Francis Alexis, the foremost of constitutional expert in Grenada.
Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that the withdrawal of Congress from the process will pave the way for the party to lead a “No-vote” charge against the changes to the constitution as being promoted by the two year old ruling New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
The administration had scheduled the first quarter of 2015 to hold the promised Referendum on Constitutional changes but was forced to put it back until later in the year due to a shortage of funds.
Speculation is rife that the NDC will attempt to use a “No Vote” campaign to test the ground politically following its 15-0 drubbing at the polls by Mitchell’s NNP in February 2013.
THE NEW TODAY reproduces in full the letter sent by the NDC Leader to Dr. Francis Alexis to officially inform him of his party’s withdrawal from the committee:
Dr. Francis Alexis, Q.C.
Chairman, Constitution Reform Advisory Committee
Dear Dr. Alexis:
Re: Notice of Withdrawal of Membership of NDC from Constitution Reform Advisory Committee
I write to you in my capacity as Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to advise you as follows:
After due and careful consideration of what has transpired and continues to occur in the ongoing Constitution Reform Process, we of the NDC have determined that we can be of no further practical assistance to your Committee in the fulfillment of its mandate.
We base our decision on the following considerations:
(1). In its First Report to the Cabinet, the Committee submitted to the Cabinet 12 recommendations for reform of the Grenada Constitution.
(2). The Cabinet of Grenada accepted these 12 recommendations in their entirety.
(3). Upon learning of Cabinet’s decision, we vigorously expressed, both in a national address and in an official Statement of the Party, our dissatisfaction with both the procedure and substance of the Committee’s Report. We cited several specific defects in the procedures followed by the Committee and called for the inclusion of the many substantive recommendations of the previous Commissions and Bodies which were omitted from the recommendations to the Cabinet. In respect of the latter, we identified and presented, in particular the following six (6) recommendations:
(i). That a limit be imposed on the period during which any one person can remain Prime Minister of Grenada to no more than two consecutive terms;
(ii). That there be a fixed date for holding general elections in Grenada every five years;
(iii). That a system of Proportional Representation be introduced to go along with the first past the post system for choosing parliamentary representatives;
(iv). That the Parliament of Grenada be instituted as a single Chamber (House) instead of two Chambers (Upper and Lower House);
(v). That the Constitution provide that Grenada has an official Opposition Leader at all times regardless of the number of seats won by any one political party; and
(vi). That the Governor General of Grenada be chosen by an Electoral College of Parliamentarians from the parties represented in Parliament rather than by the Prime Minister alone.
In our national address and public statements, we expressed the view that not enough public consultations had been held to afford the Grenadian public an opportunity to have their say on the issues that should be put to the people in any referendum on constitutional reform and called for more consultations before any final decision is made on the issue.
On October 15th, 2015, a national consultation on Constitutional reform, organised by your Committee took place at the Grenada Trade Centre. Some 1200 persons attended this consultation. In putting together your program for the said event, you failed or refused to afford our party, indeed all political parties, any opportunity to formally present its position on Constitutional reform to those in attendance even though many of the issues being considered for reform were of particular interest to political parties (for example, establishment of an Electoral and Boundaries Commission).
While this may carry less significance for the ruling party which forms the government and, through the Cabinet will ultimately decide what is proposed to the Parliament for Constitutional reform, such a decision effectively prevented us from properly and adequately ventilating the issues of particular interest to our party.
At the said consultation, our party presented to your Committee a Petition signed by 4024 persons calling for the inclusion of the six (6) items listed in paragraph 3 in any referendum held for the reform of the Grenada Constitution. It should be noted that these signatures were gathered in a matter of six (6) days.
Based on information gathered by our party, the number of persons
signing that petition was almost four times the total number of persons reached by your Committee in the 25 consultations purportedly held by your Committee on constitutional reform.
Moreover, at the said consultation, there was a strong and vigorous call by those in attendance for the inclusion of these six (6) items in any referendum on constitutional reform.
At the said consultation, a strong and vigorous call was also made by several participants for the inclusion, in any referendum on the reform of the Grenada Constitution, of a provision that the citizens be entitled to recall their Parliamentary representative in circumstances where he or she engages in conduct that is unbecoming of a Parliamentary representative.
To date, a final Report on the Trade Centre Consultations has not been produced and distributed by your Committee despite repeated request for same.
Following the said consultations, your Committee submitted to the Cabinet a Further Report for its consideration. In that report the Committee made certain further recommendations to the Cabinet, including: that the Governor General be elected by an Electoral College, that there be term a limit of three (3) consecutive terms for a sitting Prime Minister, that there be recall of Parliamentary representatives for non-performance, that there be an Opposition Leader at all times and, that there be fixed date for holding General Elections, not via Constitutional amendment, but by an ordinary Act of Parliament.
That Further Report manifestly reveals, inter alia, that:
(i). Of the six (6) matters recommended by previous Constitutional Reform Commissions and Bodies only one was recommended to the Cabinet as previously recommended, that is, the matter of the election and tenure of the Governor General.
(ii). The proposed term limit for the Prime Minister was extended from two to three terms without offering a reason or justification for this recommendation
(iii). The idea of amending the constitution to provide for a fixed date for holding elections was rejected by the Committee. Instead, the Committee recommended that any such provision must be done by way of an ordinary Act of Parliament. It must be clear to the Committee leaders that such an approach would effectively give the Prime Minister the power to amend, indeed repeal such a law as he/ she pleases once his party commands the majority in the Parliament.
(iv). The issue of Proportional Representation was categorically rejected by the Committee and was not recommended to the Cabinet in any form.
In the absence of a final report on the Trade Centre Consultations, (which was by far, the largest of all the Consultations), it is not known what role, if any, the views of the 1200 persons attending that event played in informing the further recommendations submitted to the Cabinet by the Committee. The same is true of the impact of the petition signed by 4024 persons.
As of now, there has been no formal statement from the Committee indicating its reasons for rejecting the recommendations of the previous Constitution Reform Commissions and Bodies.
Admittedly, the Reports submitted to the Cabinet for its consideration were signed by our representatives on the Committee.
Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that at the time of signing these reports our representatives made it unmistakably clear that they were affixing their signatures as indicative only of their participation in the deliberations and activities of the Committee and not of our agreement with the recommendations being submitted.
Having so clearly expressed the context in which they were affixing their signatures to the two Reports, our representatives fully expected that, for the avoidance of doubt, some indication of this would have been inserted in the Reports. That was not done. In any event, we are satisfied that our disagreement with the recommendations was expressly communicated to the Committee prior to their submissions to the Cabinet.
Despite repeated request by some members, including the representatives of the National Democratic Congress, the Committee fails or refuses to record and keep minutes of proceedings of its meetings. In the circumstances, there is no accurate record of the positions expressed before and decisions taken by the Committee.
Since the Cabinet issued its second conclusion on Constitutional Reform, on or about January 15th 2015, the role and functions of the Committee have effectively been usurped by two or three members acting on their own initiative without affording other members adequate and timely opportunity for input. In this regard, we point to the notice sent to members by email on February 20th simply advising of three consultations scheduled for February 23, 24 and 25th respectively and indicating that attendance and participation would be appreciated. No indication is given of what will be discussed, what the program will be, who will make presentations, on what topics or any other pertinent information.
Similarly, on March 12th 2015 a list of “Upcoming Consultations Regarding Constitution Reform – 2015” was presented to Committee members. The list provides a schedule of “consultations” from February 23rd to October 24th 2015. Again, Committee members were not afforded an opportunity to participate in the compilation of this schedule.
On Thursday March 19th 2015, Dr. Lawrence Joseph, representative of the Grenada Bar Association on the Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee advised Committee members that he had been offered and has agreed to accept a paid consultancy from the Government of Grenada that would involve, inter alia, advising Parliamentarians and advising the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee. No indication was given by Dr. Joseph of an intention to resign as the representative of the Grenada Bar Association on the Committee upon accepting such a consultancy.
From the very outset of this process, the NDC took the position that we will support Constitutional Reform that is meaningful and that will result in a real and meaningful improvement in the operation of our democratic system.
We embraced the Project’s mission, as articulated in the Project Document which is, inter alia, ‘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 better bonding between the people and the Constitution”.
We fully endorsed the project scope and purpose as set out in the Project document which is “to conduct public consultations on the Grenada Constitution with the citizens of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique at home and in the Diaspora.
This will provide opportunities for citizens to contribute to the revision of the governing fundamental laws and rights. In addition, it will address major gaps and ambiguities identified by the 1985 and 2006 Constitution Review Commissions of Grenada and incorporate the advancement of fundamental human rights and standards.”
Sir, we submit that the achievement of these laudable objectives requires an open, transparent and consultative process. In our view, what has transpired to date in the Constitution Reform Process demonstrates a failure on the part of the Committee to subscribe to the required standard.
In the circumstances, we hereby serve notice to you of our decision to withdraw from membership in your Committee with immediate effect.
We take this opportunity to thank you for allowing us to serve on your Committee and wish you and your Members every success in your endeavour.
V. Nazim Burke.