Experienced local attorney-at-law, Anselm Clouden has described as a “grievous error” the decision taken by the island’s major opposition political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to withdraw from the Dr. Francis Alexis-led Constitutional Reform Committee.
In an interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, Clouden urged the NDC, headed by former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke to reconsider their decision to opt out of the constitutional reform process.
Congress made a decision to withdraw its participation from the committee earlier in the month citing lack of trust in the manner in which the exercise was being conducted.
However, Clouden said it was a mistake on the part of the party to excuse itself from the process because constitutional reform is not a partisan action.
“It is a bi-partisan undertaking in the interest of Grenada and I think they were ill-advised to depart from the national dialogue. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country and therefore it encompasses the entire nation in a form of participatory democracy – people would express their will, the general will of the people as to what type of Governance they would like to live under” he remarked.
According to Clouden, the two-year old ruling New National Party (NNP) administration of Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell did its best to adhere to the request, which was made by the NDC on the items that it would like to see included on the referendum ballot for the reformation of Grenada’s constitution.
“The Government I think was very responsive to the inclusions that the NDC has asked for. I think they made 6 recommendations and the Government accepted 4 and I think that was an indication of good faith and the other two could be discussed later. Constitution (reform) is a continuous process and therefore you may not get everything you want in one swoop but as the process continues then more enlightened views are being shared and necessarily adopted”, he said.
“…I am not pandering anyone nor am I cajoling anyone. I think that in the interest of Grenada, this is not a partisan affair; it’s a national affair. In the interest of good governance they (NDC) ought to rejoin the Constitutional debate and the national conversation with respect to Constitutional reform,” he said.
Burke has stated publicly that Congress believes that “ the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of the most important and substantive issues that must be addressed in any constitutional reform.
He referred to the process adopted by the committee “in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations to the Cabinet fell short of what can reasonably be expected.”
NDC would like to see the reform process include term limits for the Office of Prime Minister, fixed dates for general elections and proportional representation for entry into the Parliament.
The opposition party leader is also calling for constitutional provisions for an Opposition Leader at at all times, a Bicameral or Unicameral Chamber of Parliament and the election and tenure of the Head of State as proposed by previous committees engaged in constitutional reform.
Clouden was fearful that the NDC pull-out of the process could negatively affect the planned referendum for October.
“The lost would be grievous because a certain percentage of (the)
population, given the tribal nature of our politics may not be inclined to vote and I think in a referendum you’ll need two thirds of those voting so it may have a negative impact in that context. If all hands are on deck, if the parties are of one mind evidently the outcome would be robust, the outcome would be far more acceptable,” he said.
According to Clouden another important reason why the NDC should rejoin the constitutional reform conversation is the fact that international community is looking on at what is happening in Grenada.
“The UN has just about given funding for this undertaking, the OAS, other regional and international organisations, they may have been sympathetic and willing to assist financially to see this process through. They may have second thoughts because an opposition party is indeed an integral part of the governance of the State although there is no opposition per se but there is a party” he said.
One of the critical issues for constitutional reform is abolishing appeals to the Privy Council in London and making the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the final appellate court in the English-speaking Caribbean.