Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has given a tongue lashing to those persons calling on Grenadians to vote “No” in the October 27 Referendum on Constitutional Reform.
Speaking in Parliament last Friday, Prime Minister Mitchell said that he is bewildered by the reasons being given for the vote “no” campaigners but this will not hurt him.
Speculation is rife that the ruling New National Party (NNP) government has signaled to its foot soldiers “to spread the word” to vote “yes” to those issues placed on the ballot paper in the referendum vote.
According to Prime Minister Mitchell the referendum is not “a government thing” but should instead be seen as a means of getting out of the 1974 way of handling things.
“Unfortunately, prior to 1974, it was all about how to control Eric Gairy. So systems that were put in that constitution were not about what people felt was best for the country – was how to deal with Gairy. Eric Gairy has passed on over 20 years now and we are still left with dealing with Eric Gairy, we’re dealing with a dead man still,” PM Mitchell told Parliament.
When Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) won the 1972 general election, it approached the British government for independence and was met with stiff opposition by local politicians especially the then Marxist-oriented New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Maurice Bishop and the Grenada National Party (NNP) of H.A. Blaize.
Gairy’s opponents formed themselves into a “Committee of 22” and staged daily demonstrations in the capital city of St. George’s.
Prime Minister Mitchell slammed those who are tying to tell Grenadians that the Referendum is “a government thing” are doing this to poison the minds of the people for their selfish ends.
He identified three issues that will be voted in the October 27.
Referendum that are solely aimed at the benefit of the people.
He said the name change on the passport from Grenada to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, should not be seen as a government thing.
“Carriacou is one constituency in the country. This is not a government thing, the people of Carriacou want it and they are citizens of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Why are we trying to prevent that from happening? We’re gonna vote against that?
I can’t understand the logic…this is not coming from the government, this is coming from the people of the country as a whole…in this context we would tell our supporters to support it. So anyone who want to tell their supporters not to support it, I hope they won’t go to Carriacou and ask for a vote afterwards,” said PM Mitchell.
His remarks were clearly aimed at the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Nazim Burke, which is seeking to replace NNP in office in the upcoming general election.
Congress has stated publicly that it will give support to those campaign to get Grenadians to vote “no” on Referendum Day.
According to PM Mitchell, there should be support for plans to make constitutional provisions for the establishment of an Elections and Boundaries Commission to replace the Supervisor of Elections.
He said the bill that will go before the voters on October 27 seeks to limit the powers of government in selecting the Supervisor of Elections as it now stands.
PM Mitchell told legislators: “The present system gives the government of the day a lot of power … as we saw before. So we’re saying that is not right, it’s fundamentally wrong and therefore we should have a system in place, whether it’s now, after we leave government, new government comes in, there should be system where the electoral process is governed by an impartial committee or a committee which have representation from all the major political parties”, he said.
“…It means then the opposition will appoint two members, the government appoints two members and the Governor General appoints a chairperson. That group must respond to the major concerns of the political parties, so no one can show off and decide that is my thing – whether we in government or not we don’t believe in that.
“We are saying while we in government vote for it and you’re telling people (now) don’t vote, vote no… so when they vote no, are you hurting me?”
The Prime Minister also said he was baffled by those who are advocating to vote “no” on the question of human rights and the rights of individuals as contained in the Referendum document.
“All rights to education and other services you want to vote against that and you wanna make the government look bad. How could the government look bad? When you vote against all disabled people and even those who are disabled are telling people not to vote for it,” he said.
PM Mitchell’s reference to “disabled” people calling on Grenadians to vote “no” on Referendum Day is seemingly directed at two of the most vociferous persons on the issue, Labour Senator Ray Roberts and John Rullow.
Sen. Roberts has called on citizens to vote “no” to the bills on October 27 in protest against government’s disregard to honour a court ruling on section 84-8 of the constitution that deals with pension for public officers.
The Labour representative has repeatedly stated that there has been enough time for Prime Minister Mitchell in his 17 years in office to address the issue of pensions and since this was not included for reform, public officers in particular should vote “no” on referendum day.
Rullow has been calling for the establishment of a broad-based Assembly of the people to chart the way to meaningful constitutional reform instead of the government-appointed committee headed by former Attorney General, Dr. Francis Alexis.