Lower House of Parliament gives green light to Constitutional Reform

The New National Party (NNP) controlled House of Representatives has cleared the way for Grenada to embark upon constitutional reform.

The Members of Parliament on Tuesday approved the second and third readings of eight Constitutional Bills that will be presented at a referendum, a date for which is yet to be decided upon.

The Bills which were approved are the Caribbean Court of Justice and other Justice-Related Matters, Elections and Boundaries Commission, Name of State, Rights and Freedoms, Fixed Date for Elections, Term of Office of Prime Minister, and Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition.

Another Bill that was debated and passed in the Lower House of Parliament was the Restructuring (Amendment) Bill, 2015.

Legal Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod who piloted four of the Bills told Parliament the people of Grenada now have a chance to have an input in a Law that governs them in a very supreme way.

Minister Nimrod reminded his fellow Parliamentarians that the Grenada Constitution which is the supreme law of the land was drafted, ratified and handed down to the people of Grenada on the occasion of Grenada attaining political independence from Great Britain in 1974.

He indicated that Grenadians never had an opportunity to have any meaningful input in the framing of the Constitution.

He stated that after 40 years, the people of Grenada believe it is now time “to take a second look at the Constitution.”

Minister Nimrod believes that certain provisions in the Constitution have lost their meaning and relevance in today’s era.

Since 1985 efforts have been made for Grenada to reform its Constitution.

Five of the Constitutional Bills had their first reading last December, while the other three made their way to the Lower House this February.

The Bills will now be sent to the Senate for approval in a single majority before they are taken to a referendum involving all eligible voters.

In order for the changes in the Constitution to take place, it must receive a two-thirds majority of the valid votes cast in favour of each of the Constitutional Bills at the referendum.

Several dates were already put forward for the referendum but as the time became unrealistic, an extension was given.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell who also addressed Parliament on the Constitutional Bills felt that they should not be seen as being politically influenced.

“It must be seen as not associated with just a political organisation. It is not about the present political parties in the country or the personalities of those political parties. It must be seen as one that deals with the future of our children and grandchildren,” Dr. Mitchell told the Lower House.

He said it is because of this, the process to take Grenada to constitutional reform must be led by an independent group.

In 2015 a Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), headed by Constitutional Lawyer Dr. Francis Alexis, and involving a number of groups including three political parties – NNP, NDC, and NUF – was assembled to lead the process.

“I don’t want it to be ever perceived that this is the government activities so I’m going to vote against it because it is the government of the day that came to Parliament with it. The process is being led by an independent group led by a Constitutional Expert,” Dr. Mitchell said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that he had made it clear to CRAC that because he wants to have the constitutional reform not tied or correlated with any political views, ideas or activities, he wanted to see it done as far as possible before the next General Elections which are constitutionally due by 2018.

Although all of the Bills were passed, not every Member gave their approval.

Lengthy debates took place over the Term of Office for the Prime Minister, Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition, and Fixed Date for Elections.

Member for St. David’s Oliver Joseph who abstained from voting for Term of Office of the Prime Minister said that under the Westminster Minister said that under the Westminster System which Grenada follows, he sees no need to have introduced in the Constitution term limits for the Prime Minister.

According to the Bill no Prime Minister will be able to serve in that Office in excess of three consecutive terms.

Ten other Members who were present voted in favour of the Bill.

Joseph who also abstained from voting for the Appointment of the Leader of the Opposition at all times indicated that this will be a new concept in the Commonwealth of having a selected Member hold the position.

He said his research of the Commonwealth shows that Grenada will be the only country that will be moving in that direction where there are both elected and selected Members in the House of Representatives.

“There is nothing wrong with what we have here,” he told Parliament.

The Amended Bill seeks to have enshrined in the Constitution that should any political party in a General Elections command all 15 Seats in the House of Representatives, that a Leader of the Opposition be appointed from the political party having the second most number of votes.

Member for the Town of St. George, Nickolas Steele who joined with Joseph in not voting for the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition said having been elected by the people to become a Member of the Lower House of Parliament he cannot support the contemplation that “someone else will get into this House outside of the will of the people.”

After the vote was taken, ten other Members who were present gave their support to the Bill.

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