Burke: Government lacks moral authority in Constitutional Reform

Grenada has moved closer to Constitutional reform with the passage of seven bills in the Senate last week Wednesday.

However, there is uncertainty over support for the move from the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) as its leader Nazim Burke has shot down Constitutional Reform at this point in time.

During the sitting, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Simon Stiell described the day as “another historic moment” for the country but Sen. Burke questioned whether the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration has the moral authority to come to the people with the talk of Constitutional reform.

The bills related to the Establishment of an Elections and Boundaries Commission, Caribbean Court of Justice to replace the Privy Council in London, Name of State Amendment, Fixed Terms for Elections, Term of Office for the Prime Minister, and Appointment of Leader of the Opposition.

According to Sen. Stiell the Constitution reform bills is yet another act of courage on the part of the government in its three years in office since the 1974 Constitution was handed down on the attainment of Independence in 1974 from Great Britain does not speak to what Grenada is all about.

“When we reflect on where we were back on 1994 and where we are now those core values that make us who we are …. we should do all we can to protect that and that is what the Constitution is there for to make sure that those things that you want to nurture are there, are reflected within that and those things you want to protect us against or give us the teeth to address must also be there”, he said.

“…The current Constitution was handed down to us by the Colonial authorities of that day, few Grenadians if any Grenadians had any say into the construct of the Constitution. Where is the true Grenadian-ness? Where is that reflected in the spirit of the Constitution, where – our fingerprints are nowhere to be found on that document”, he added.

Sen. Stiell, the Minister of State for Education contended that the 1974 Constitution is not reflective of who Grenada really is.

However, Sen. Burke doubts if NNP regime of Dr. Mitchell understands the true essence of the Constitution and what it stands for.

“As I reflect on sections of the constitutions that I’ve read, I am forced to ask myself Mr. President, whether in the last three and half years, considering all that the government has done in last three and a half years, whether this government has the moral authority to come to the people of Grenada Carriacou and Petite Martinique proposing constitutional change”, he told the Upper House.

Sen. Burke recalled a number of issues involving the government that points to its lack of moral authority to push ahead with reformation of the constitution.

He cited the manner in which the NNP on taking in office in February 2013 removed the Commissioner of Police, Willan Thompson, Supervisor of Elections, Judy Benoit and Cabinet Secretary, Gemma Bain-Thomas from their posts in the civil service.

“In the last three and a half years, the Prime Minister removed the Commissioner of Police (COP) appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) as Commissioner of Police (COP), section 84-1 of the Constitution speaks to that.

“The Prime Minister removed the Commissioner of Prisons, appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC), Section 84 of the Constitution speaks to that. The Prime Minister removed the Cabinet Secretary appointed by the PSC, appointing her to a non-established position in the Public Service – Executive Director of the Money Laundering Commission, answerable to the Attorney General.

According to the Congress leader, these decisions of the administration raises questions as to whether the current leaders understand the Constitution.

Sen. Burke was also critical of the Mitchell’s government introduction in Parliament of a number of controversial legislation including the Electronic Crimes Bill, Terrorism Bill, and the bugging of phones among others.

He said: “The government enacted sections 6, 16 and 25 of a law called the Electronic Crimes Act, criminalising the transmission of electronic information considered offensive by any person, even where the information is true.

“Thanks to the valiant efforts of the International Press Institute, thanks (to) the valiant efforts of the local forces including the NDC, thanks to the efforts of a Sister in St Vincent, who fought so valiantly and we were able to push the government back on that provision.

“The government enacted the Terrorism Amendment Law, giving to the State, to the Attorney General the authority to declare any Grenadian person a terrorist, any Grenadian organisation, a terrorist organisation. The United Nations Security Council basically has a list of all the organisations in the world that are considered terrorist organisations, that is shared by all nations and made available to them. Countries don’t just arbitrarily get up and say you know what – I declaring NDC a terrorist organisation.

“If the Attorney General is basically just given the authority to declare what can happen, the Attorney General can get  today and say you know what Nazim Burke is a terrorist, NDC is a terrorist and then when I try to go down to Trinidad, Trinidad says to me your country declared you a terrorist, we don’t want no terrorist in our country…so even my right to travel in other Caribbean Islands can be constrained by this kinda behaviour.

The NDC Political Leader also referred to a law called The Interception of Wire Communication Amendment Bill that completely goes against certain inclusions in the Constitution.

“…In an attempt to secure the legal authority to bug phones of all persons who are believed to be acting “contrary to the economic interest of the state” without defining in that law what it means when you say contrary to the economic interest of the state. Let us say for example, the government considers the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to be important and in the economic interest of the state and then I get up and unknowingly make some comments that are in disagreement with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the government considers that to be contrary to the economic interest of the state by making these comments against the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), that forms the basis upon which the government can bug my phone.

“Now, is that freedom of conscience? Is that freedom of expression?

Is that freedom of opinion? I say no and it’s only because we fought valiantly that we were able to kill that provision (in) the bill…”, Sen. Burke said.

The NDC leader touched on the manner in which Benoit was removed as Supervisor of Elections after resisting moves for the Office of the Prime Minister to have direct Internet access to the Parliamentary Elections Office.

“How did the Cabinet respond to that measure? The Cabinet fired the woman, the Cabinet fired the Supervisor of Elections…this is the government that is coming to you to say I want to change the Constitution…” he said.

The Mitchell government has given commitment to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that is helping to fund the proposed referendum that the electorate will be given an opportunity soon to vote on the seven bills.

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