The Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government has been forced to postpone the October 27 Referendum Vote aimed at making far-reaching changes to the island’s 1974 Independence Constitution.
The decision was taken against claims from top local lawyer, Jimmy Bristol that the date selected was not in keeping with the relevant laws that would have facilitated a national poll.
THE NEW TODAY had picked up information early Tuesday morning that Attorney General, Cajeton Hood was summoned to the Botanical Gardens for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell on the 6th Floor of the Ministerial Complex.
Within minutes of returning to his office on H.A Blaize Street, AG Hood and his staff got busy in trying to take the legal steps for the postponement of the Referendum.
Well-placed sources told this newspaper that Bristol was in the process of preparing legal papers to file in the Supreme Court Registry to challenge the October 27 date when an emergency press conference at the Ministerial Complex involving AG Hood was called to announce the postponement of the Referendum.
Hood was flanked by Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), noted constitutional lawyer, Dr. Francis Alexis when the announcement was made that the Referendum is being pushed back to a date sometime in November.
Without making any reference to Bristol’s charge, AG Hood said the reason for the move was the need to give the public more time for the education process to take place on the seven bills on the Ballot Paper.
“The Constitutional Advisory Committee has listened also to all the contributions of the stakeholders in this matter and against this background it has been decided that it would better serve the public good if an extension of approximately one month be given for the education process to be completed”, he said.
“…The Governor General has been advised of the direction that the Cabinet of Grenada wants to take and that a new date should be set before the end of the month of November for the holding of the referendum,” he added.
AG Hood confirmed that a new process would have to begin for the holding of the referendum including the issuing of new Writs.
“… The Governor General’s office and the Electoral Office will issue and take charge of the ongoing process for the proclamation of the new writ and to give effect to that decision. The Government of Grenada believes that this decision is in the broader national interest and is consistent with the consultative posture of the Government of Grenada and the Constitutional Review Advisory Commission,” he said.
Dr. Alexis who was previously adamant that no more time is needed by the electorate was now offering a different opinion.
He told reporters that more time needs to be spent on the Freedom and Human Rights Bill and the extension of the time will be spent in more consultation on that bill.
“Our experience in the CRAC is that the more we explain to our fellow Grenadians that that part of the bill concerns itself with equality between men and women regarding such areas as employment, promotion, the profession, the more people are coming to terms with that part of the bill.
“…I met the committee of a certain part of the churches here in Grenada two Mondays ago and there is no doubt about it there is a need for further explanation regarding that part of the bill and what we find the more we read that part of the bill to the people and then explain it to them, the more there is a comfort zone.
“We are not taking anything for granted but the more we read to the people and explain it to them, the greater the comfort zone on the part of the people regarding that part of the bill and that bill is of vital importance to this country. It therefore, behooves all of us to spend a little more time explaining that bill – that time (one month extension) is more than worth it, we can guarantee you that.”
The Freedom and Human Rights Bill is facing stiff opposition from many quarters in the country on the grounds that it was opening the door to same sex marriages in the country among gays and lesbians.
AG Hood used the press conference to once again reject suggestions that there are loopholes in the controversial bill to promote same sex marriages.
“There is no end to what imaginative legal minds can come up with for causes of action. If we are trying to remove all possibilities we will not be successful. As Dr. Alexis has said we are confident regarding the direction we are taking, very confident.
“We believe that there is a focus and intent of the Rights Bill amendment and we are trying to explain to people what it is. I’ve also given the assurance that the amendment does not in any way improve the chances of a person who wants to raise a cause of action that they did not have before without the amendment.
“So, it is not right to say that because of the amendment that somebody is better armed to make a challenge along the lines that people are concerned about and I think that is all we can (say) on that topic.
Dr. Alexis challenged the contention of Attorney Bristol that the date for the referendum was not in keeping with the law.
He said the postponement of the October 27 date has absolutely nothing to do with what was stated by Bristol as CRAC did not issue a wrong date.
“We never had the wrong date. We always had the correct date. The constitutional referendum Act 2016 requires that there be no less than 21 days between the issuing a writ of constitutional referendum and the holding of a referendum and that period (has) been faithfully observed in the current process.
“The Supervisor of Elections as required by the act, similarly to give notice in the Gazette and in two newspapers, two notices that (the) writ has been issued to him. The Supervisor of Elections calls for those notices to be publicised, the first on the 30th of September, and the second on the 10th of October.
“… The second issue the 10th of October was not in keeping with the requirement of the act but our researches show conclusively that that second notice could not invalidate the process, we are absolutely sure about that.
This newspaper contacted the Parliamentary Elections Office on Wednesday to find out if there would be financial implications due to the change in date for the referendum.
An official from the office, Ferdinand Phillip said there will be some implications as a result.
“I guess there will be some changes. We have no directive on that but there will be some implications,” he remarked.
Sources told THE NEW TODAY that an estimated 100, 000 ballot papers that were printed by the Government Printery for the Electoral Office bore the October 27 date for the Referendum and would have to be destroyed.