Speaker of the House of Assembly Hendrick Alexander (File photo by Lance Neverson))
Speaker of the House of Assembly Hendrick Alexander (File photo by Lance Neverson))

TAIPEI, Taiwan: – The Speaker of the House of Assembly in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has called for “civility” in discussions of the country’s proposed revised constitution, two months before a referendum.

Hendrick Alexander told a round-table discussion in capital Kingstown on Monday that some commentators were mocking the dialogue.

“I also lament the fact that some of our newspaper columnist and comments persons can only approach this matter in a satirical way with the whole objective to destroy any serious approach to this matter.

“Such comical approach certainly does not help to advance the process. These are very serious issues and social commentators are asked to step up to the plate and bring some enlightenment to the discussion,” he said.

He said that while some citizens did not understand the document, others did not care to understand it, yet others understood but were bent on voting in a particular way.

“Sometimes, here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we do not always take these matters seriously,” he said.

“We would like to see all those who could make a worthwhile contribution to this debate get onboard and help to take the discussion forward in a meaningful way.”

Vincentians will vote in a referendum on November 25 on a revised constitution to replace the one given to the nation by the British at independence in 1979.

The government and the opposition New Democratic Party both agreed to constitutional reform six years ago.

The opposition has since withdrawn its support and both the government and the opposition have both launched campaigns canvassing for “yes” and “no” notes respectively.

The People’s Movement for Change, a socio-political group, has called for the referendum to be postponed until one year after the next general election, due by the end of next year.

Alexander said that he would vote “yes” in the referendum but told the gathering and radio, television, and Internet audiences to familiarize themselves with the facts and vote according to their convictions.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Steering Committee (CRSC) Parnel Campbell, Q.C also spoke at the event which also included an open forum.

Prime Minister Gonsalves, CRSC Chairman Campbell and Opposition Leader Eustace chat in Parliament during debate of the constitution earlier this month. (Photo: Lance Neverson).
Prime Minister Gonsalves, CRSC Chairman Campbell and Opposition Leader Eustace chat in Parliament during debate of the constitution earlier this month. (Photo: Lance Neverson).

A student asked Dr Gonsalves what harm could be done in postponing the referendum, noting that the Speaker had admitted that some citizens did not understand the document.

Dr Gonsalves  said that everyone was focussed on the constitution because the vote was two months away.

He said that if the referendum were postponed to next January, discussions would “come to a screeching halt”.

He said that most citizens either understood the proposed constitution or were getting to understand it, saying that there was still a long time before the referendum.

In an address before the question-and-answer session, Dr. Gonsalves discussed some of the proposed changes, saying that constitutions were compromises and not everyone would get what they want.

He said that the proposed document preserved and expanded upon the existing rights and freedoms and began with “a most majestic preamble”.

He said that by voting “no” in the referendum, citizens will be voting against the death penalty, saying that  the proposed constitution better protected the right to life by restoring the death penalty for capital offences.

He described as an “absurdity”, “fiction” and “fairy tail” the fact that under the existing constitution, the British monarch is also the monarch in SVG and said it was time for the nation to rid itself of such colonial “baggage”.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace declined an invitation to speak at the event, CRSC Chairman Campbell said.

In a letter to Campbell, Eustace reiterated his call for Campbell’s resignation.

“Since you have now assumed a position as a member of the yes-vote committee set up by the cabinet of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in your capacity as CRSC chairman, I no longer recognise you as CRSC chairman and will therefore not attend any activity related to constitutional reform in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that is summoned by you,” Eustace wrote in a letter read by Campbell at the event.

Campbell said that he had no intentions of resigning as CRSC chairman unless the parliament of SVG revoked his appointment.