Heated debate over new referendum date

The manner in which the new referendum date was announced and the subsequent publication of the notice of writs is being challenged by the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), which is once again questioning the legitimacy of the referendum date which was changed from October 27 to November 24.

Freelance journalist – Linda Straker

Freelance journalist – Linda Straker

At the weekly press conference Monday, NDC party officials called for Acting Supervisor of Elections, Alex Phillip and the relevant authorities to tell the nation the “true status of the referendum”.

The NDC charge led to a hostile exchange of words between female freelance journalist, Linda Straker, who is assisting the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, and NDC Chairman, Vincent Roberts on the referendum issue.

Quoting Section 52-B of the Constitution Reform Act, Roberts told reporters that in order for a referendum to be validly held the notice of writ must be published in two issues of the Government Gazette and two issues of at least two local newspapers.

Roberts was accompanied by the party’s Deputy Political Leader, Joseph Andall, who revealed that “based on investigations carried out (by the NDC and) calculations that we have made, things that we have seen and have not seen, such as for example the publications of Gazette information in two issues, the provision of such information to at least two local newspapers with national circulation, we strongly suspect that something is amiss”.

“That is why we are issuing the call for the Supervisor of Elections, who made the most recent announcement of the date and other relevant  authorities to come clean and to let the nation know what is the true status of this referendum,” Andall told reporters.

NDC Chairman Vincent Roberts

NDC Chairman Vincent Roberts

However, Straker, who is assisting CRAC with the sensitisation of the seven bills to be voted in the referendum poll, produced newspaper prints showing that the required information was indeed publicised in the Grenada Advocate newspaper, in two editions dated Friday, October 21 and the regular issue dated Monday, October 24.

Straker was clad in her blue referendum jersey designed for the “postponed” October 27 referendum.

However, Roberts questioned the legality of the manner in which the information was publicised.

“This here presented by Linda…October 21 and 24, in my opinion is not two weekly, it is a one week publication, three days apart and should be questioned as to its legality…these are two special issues – they are not the regular issues,” he said.

According to Roberts, this development “continues to show government’s blatant disregard to the intention of the law that the people be properly notified.”

He said, “the intention is not (just) to meet a requirement of publishing a document (in) which all of the copies stays in somebody’s office (but) that the papers be published and circulated for the people of Grenada to know what the heck is happening with their affairs.”

“And I am saying that it may have met the letter of the law…(but) the intention is not to hoodwink the people and to slip it in to say I have met the requirements but it (the information) is not circulated”, he added.

The NDC officials did not take issue with the other referendum information publications, which they indicated were published in the Caribupdate newspaper.

Speaking at Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing on the issue, Minister of State for Education, Senator Simon Stiell informed reporters that the Supervisor of Elections is the one tasked with the responsibility of “sending out the notices in publications of its choice.”

Sen. Stiell said of utmost importance should be the “issues that are being put before the people” on the ballot paper.

“The question is if there is sufficient public awareness as to the date of elections (and) in terms publishing, creating national awareness of the new dates for the referendum,” he remarked.

“What is important is (1), that it is not government’s responsibility (but) the Supervisor of Elections to make the publications and (2), ensuring that there is sufficient ventilation of the issues and the debate that is taking place on aspects on each of the bills so that persons come the 24 of November (are) suitably informed and are in a position to go out and vote and that is the big issue right now”, he said.

THE NEW TODAY was told that some local lawyers hold the view that based on the law governing the holding of a referendum in the country, a poll cannot be postponed for the purpose of public education.

According to a well-placed source, the referendum can only be postponed for one of four reasons – the country must be at war, in a state of emergency, the occurrence of a natural disaster or if the voter’s list and the Electoral Office are not ready.

In a telephone interview with this newspaper on Wednesday, NDC’s Vincent Roberts said that being the case then this means that “the October 27 referendum was not postponed but cancelled and a new referendum was called for November 24.”

THE NEW TODAY sought clarification on the issue from government’s principal legal advisor, Attorney General Cajeton Hood but he was very hostile to the newspaper.

Hood said he is not willing to speak to anyone associated with THE NEW TODAY “until you correct the wrong” that was done against him.

The local attorney-at-law was referring to the editorial published in the October 21, 2016 issue of THE NEW TODAY, entitled “AG Hood should resign” which he said contained “erroneous” statements that he is not pleased about.

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