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Diversionary tactics about reforming Grenada’s Constitution – Part 1

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell excretes one of the most insulting remarks to the ‘intelligence and independence’ of the Grenadian people on the question of constitutional reforms, and in particular exerts a serious blow to the ‘record and resolve’ of mature stalwarts who have been engrossed with that question, when he was relevantly quizzed thus : “ … are you committed to us going through the process of a referendum and a constitutional change where we can have a constitution of the people, by the people and for the people. I think our politicians just want the constitution of the politicians.   So are you committed to having a constitution reform within your tenure…”

Indeed, Dickon’s demeanour on the question begs for and should attract multi-dimensional professional analyses for more invaluable political lessons to those accrued over the past many decades on such issues of sovereign ‘identity and dignity’, including in terms of any ‘treachery and conspiracy’ against the people, even now within the context of an estimated $15 million for a year-long celebration of Grenada’s Golden Jubilee about its Independence.

The valid concern for undertaking constitutional reforms arises from the presentation of the Prime Minister as the Key Speaker at the 19th Sir Archibald Nedd Memorial Public Lecture on 22 November 2023, organised by the Grenada Bar Association (GBA) on the topic “Reparations, Republicanism and The Rule of Law : What Next After Fifty Years Of Independence?”.

This two-part article focuses on the deserved reactions to the purported two main areas of reasons which Prime Minister Mitchell seeks to impress on the population for not undertaking the process towards those needed reforms as priority; even more within the reflections that this has been long outstanding.

That is, there is the need to expose and debunk the possibly well-intended ‘misrepresentation and misconception’ by the powers-that-be, for the decision of sinking the issue of a ‘thorough referendum’ on the nation’s constitutional governance construct for a ‘favourable and prepared’ time, deep into the next fifty years of Grenada’s Independence.

Pertinent extracts from Dickon’s thesis, including the responses to the discussants, are employed herein.

The main Address contains in part: “ … the Rule of Law also assumes under Westminster parliamentary style democracy that there will be an effective Separation of Powers; that the people who legislate, the people who are in the Executive and the people who are in the Judiciary are going to be separate, are going to be distinct and will carry out their functions distinctly … In Grenada and many Commonwealth countries that is not the case.

The people who sit in the Legislature and are the majority, are the same people who sit in the Executive; so there is no real or true separation of the Legislature from the Executive, and the idea that the people who sit in the Executive are accountable to the Legislature is in many instances a complete and total myth. And again Grenada has proven this exception three times.

In our post-independent history we’ve created history by electing no Opposition in Parliament; the effect of which the Legislature became the Executive and the Executive became the Legislature … there is no one for the Executive to account to; and so the idea that there is a check on the power of the Executive essentially becomes that of a myth and so, you could in fact even under a society that talks about the Rule of Law, that talks about the Separation of Powers … that the Executive could in fact end up with Absolute Power or near absolute power … you could create an absolutely new Constitution save for perhaps that one check of a referendum … so I say this to say, if you had an Executive that was popular enough and perhaps wise enough that you could convince the population to go with whatever issues you bring forward in a referendum, even under our Westminster style democracy, even under a society that says we are governed by the Rule of Law … we could fundamentally alter the basis upon which the society is structured, and that includes eliminating for example the independence of the Judiciary …”.

The ardent and astute individuals should be able to discover and point out the consequential ‘inconsistencies and irregularities’ in Dickon’s response to the follow up question about constitutional reforms, in relation to his main Address concerning the trappings and loopholes which are the realities of Grenada’s governance system under the Rule-of-Law.

Indeed, there was no degree of ‘seriousness and concern and urgency’ on the part of Dickon about those dangerous realities, being sensed. Should all articulations and propositions by State Officials be passively or blindly greeted?

Would Grenadians allow the development and fruition of a strategy, whereby the Government being ‘popular and wise enough to convince the population to go with whatever issues it (the Authority) chooses for a referendum which enables it, and eventually results, to fundamentally alter the democratic basis upon which the Society is built and structured, and that could include eliminating for example the independence of the Judiciary’?

The first typical area of excuses put forward by Dickon on the hesitancy for constitutional reforms renders thus : “ … let’s deal with the reality of the current constitutional construct. You have to have a super majority in Parliament to start talking about constitutional change, or you have to have an Opposition that is prepared to agree with you on constitutional change; and therefore you have to have both the Government of the day and the Opposition being genuine.

“In the absence of that, it will not work; and we’ve seen it. In the absence of a publicly agreed and stated commitment by all political parties or at least the two main ones in our system, to engage in Constitutional Reform or Revolution and to jointly sit at the table together and to engage the public, it will not happen.

“ So I won’t waste my time by trying to create constitutional reform from a government perspective alone; it simply will not work, because we will not have the majority in Parliament and more crucially the Other Side is going to play political football and their supporters will not want to support it. So it will require a joint open public, I would call explicitly agreed in writing; that’s the only way in which I can see us moving forward on this question …“.

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Distinct from the manifesto of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) for the 13 March 2018 general elections under its political leader Nazim Burke, NDC’s elections manifesto for the 23 June 2022 elections under Dickon Mitchell makes no reference about any ‘interest and initiative’ for constitutional reforms.

The observing of this ‘gross failure’ must have been disconcerting for many individuals, especially in grasping any ‘subtle or hypocritical’ messages from the ‘assertive and convincing’ pronouncements made on 18 January 2022 on national radio by novice politician Dickon, when he was vying for Prime Minister-ship.

Dickon at that time alludes to the existing constitutional arrangement as being “outdated; ah frankly it’s counterproductive to democracy and it doesn’t lead to good governance, because it essentially means you are exploiting the system for political advantage”, and stresses “so as a nation we need to talk about issue such as having a fix date for election, so that the date is known in advance, everybody knows it …”.

Grenada has had an unprecedented set of seven constitutional referenda on 24 November 2016 under the Government of the New National Party (NNP) led by then Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, and in that process for the reforms Burke, a seasoned politician from the era and dealings of the 13 March 1979 People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) during which the 07 February 1974 Independence Constitution was suspended, played a pivotal role.

Whatever the political strategy of the PRG which was led by Maurice Bishop, the original position of the Governor General was kept but the ‘conviction and conversation’ began for a new Constitution; and this reality is critical for remembering, establishing and upholding especially for the unsuspecting generations within an ever-changing political landscape which often features ‘weak and wild, as well as self-important and self-serving’, statements as currently pitched.

The Marxist-Leninist ‘oriented’ PRG with a ‘transformation agenda’ for Grenada, ruled by decree with accusations of violations of human rights within a scenario of many socio-economic projects, up until its collapse on 25 October 1983 with the assassination of Bishop, a week earlier by hardliner elements.

But this unprecedented brutal event occurs, without the PRG having any elections held neither having the expressed efforts for a national constitution which is commensurate with its version of Government, and more ‘gratifying and fitting’ for the people, been achieved, amidst the ‘calls and circumstances’ for said.

Despite the process for the November 2016 referenda was rejected by the people, with a No Vote result; in consideration of the functioning of the ‘relatively independent’ fourteen-member representation Committee to guide the process, the tremendous efforts together with much technical and financial assistances for the process from external sources which includes the United Nations, the extensive public consultations undertaken in the process resulting in the awakening of the masses about constitutional rule and about the power of the people, the urge and determination of the people for a genuine process towards an indigenous Constitution, and in considering its active and significant participation in the process and having identified worthy areas for improvement and acceptability of such process, the NDC itemized Constitution Reform within a proposed Framework For A Well-Ordered And Equitable Society in its 2017 – 2030 Policy Agenda.

By Keith Mitchell also conducting a ‘limited’ constitutional referendum on 06 November 2018, which was essentially to make the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Grenada’s final appellate court and thereby replacing the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, added experiences and feelings on the preparations and requirements for constitution reforms were realized. Thus, the NDC reopening the issues for constitutional reforms was reasonable, justifiable and laudable.

The point must be made that any influences from both parties (NNP and NDC) to the outcomes of the November 2016 and November 2018 referenda, were not great as compared with the activism and stance by objective individuals about the processes, and this may be clear with the very low turnouts.

Both referenda were rejected by the people, mainly based on the disingenuous approaches taken by the powers-that-be, which was vigorously raised and decried by Civil Society. Unfortunately, Dickon Mitchell seems to be genuinely not aware of this reality, or he seems conveniently not willing to acknowledge it.

It would be very instructive for Prime Minister Mitchell to disclose the contributions which he, especially as an Attorney and member of the GBA, had made to the two previous referenda, extending from the community education to the polling station.

It is imperative for Dickon to disclose the extent to which the NDC played “political football” with those referenda and thus vindicate Keith Mitchell on this type of politicking.

Barring any disguised policy and anticipation on his part, ‘with mind and sight riveted on a legacy’, Dickon needs to challenge Keith on the utterances pertinent to the outcomes of the referenda which he piloted.

In an interview aired on 13 April 2023 Keith holds thus: “People take a principled position on anything when they are in Government; when they are in Opposition, not thinking of what is best for the country … If any serious initiative of any Government comes forward that deals with serious change for the country, I’m in Opposition, they would have my support.

“… I’m thinking of the children and the future of this country are going to be the beneficiaries of that change and that’s how that decision will be made. I cannot speak for my whole political party, but I’ll certainly use my influence in getting support … for any serious change. So I am saying maybe … it might happen during my time in Opposition“.

J.K. Roberts