A recent decision by the Antigua and Barbuda Government of Prime Minister Gaston Browne to shift the proposed October 2016 date for the referendum to accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), to a date in early 2017, has prompted the Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Senator Nazim Burke, to reiterate the importance of consultations before the referendum poll, set for October 27.
Prime Minister Browne took this position after rigorous debate in the Antigua and Barbuda Lower House of Parliament by Opposition Leader, Baldwin Spencer of the United Progressive Party (UPP), who held the view that more time is needed to get the people on board as there is a public perception that the government was “pushing the question down the throat of the people”.
Speaking on this development during the weekly NDC press conference at the party’s headquarters in St. George’s, Sen. Burke noted that when the Keith Mitchell administration indicated its desire to continue along the path of Constitution reform “the stated mission of the Constitution Reform process was to engender an environment conducive to the reform of the Grenada Constitution Order 1973, with the direct consultation of and participation by the people of Grenada so as to build a better bond between the people and the Constitution”.
However, Sen. Burke pointed out that the Cabinet has rejected several recommendations put forward by the people and that even after an agreement was reached of which items would be taken to the referendum, the government-appointed Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) failed to hold sufficient rounds of consultations with the people.
“There seems to be a rush to the referendum. The bills were drafted and tabled and passed in the Parliament without consultations. In fact the people were not even aware of what was in those bills”, he told reporters.
“It means that while the people made certain proposals for change in the Constitution they were not given a say in how these changes were going to be expressed”, he said.
Sen. Burke charged that the process “has been flawed from the very beginning and as we speak today the vast majority of Grenadians still do not know (or) understand what are in those bills, and are confused as to what should be put to the people and what they would be expected to do on Constitution reform day”.
The Congress leader had made a call in a December 2015 national address for the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration to postpone taking the bills to Parliament in order to give the people a chance to scrutinise and discuss them and this was ignored.
Sen. Burke said: “It is interesting to note that a similar call was made by the leader of the opposition in Antigua a couple days ago in which they proposed to the government that given the need for greater consultation on the referendum that they too had set for October 27th, 2016.
“The Prime Minister (of Antigua and Barbuda) decided to heed the call and the recommendation by the Leader of the Opposition and postponed the referendum to May of 2017.
“We are talking about a six months extension by the Prime Minister out of recognition that more time is needed in order to consult and ensure that the people have an opportunity to understand and appreciate what they were being asked to vote on.
The NDC has signaled its intention to ask Grenadians to vote “no” in the October 27 exercise aimed at making changes to the 1974 Grenada Constitution.