Over the years since the constitution referendum of 2009 in our Country, I have heard politicians of the “vote yes” side pronounce on how the people rejected good things, how they did not want progressive proposals for change, they are on the wrong side of history and such like. Often their speech is one that clearly shows lack of respect for the people’s freedom of choice and a sort of continual despising of those who voted against the bill. I have listened to them obscure the issues, giving the impression that there were no legitimate reasons for voting no and essentially telling only one side of the story. I want to give a reminder about a certain aspect of the debate at that time, which any person reflecting on the matter must never forget. I am especially made to reflect on it at this time because of a certain article I read recently about the constitution reform consultation process currently underway in Grenada.
When we had arrived at the juncture where we began to discuss the method of referendum and voting, I remember highlighting the constitutional provision which revealed to me that the voting could be done on a subject by subject basis. Section 38 of the 1979 Constitution of our land — which deals with the alteration of the constitution — did not hinder the government from implementing such a process of voting. In fact, it indicates that the vote on the referendum was to be done “in accordance with procedures as may be prescribed by Parliament for the purposes of the referendum”. I introduced this point to a radio panel discussion on WEFM one Sunday afternoon. There was a lawyer on the panel who, in answer to my question on the section, admitted to me that section 38 did indeed permit the government to choose such a method if it so desired. However the arguments which later followed against such a “subject by subject” voting said it would be too long a process and would waste time and money.
Meanwhile the people were essentially being asked to simply vote yes to everything, even if it meant their consciences could not support certain vexing provisions in the final draft of the constitution bill, although they supported some good provisions. I wrote an article for my then weekly column in THE NEWS newspaper called “Persistent Scrutiny” and in it I addressed this matter in a piece dated 5 May, 2009 and entitled “Constitution Reform or Deform?” I argued that it was against freedom of choice to, as it were, force the people to vote “yes” to everything, even against their consciences. I also indicated that if the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” to different issues was not granted, that I would vote “No” to the document as a whole. Furthermore the Thusian Institute for Religious Liberty (TIRL), to which I belong, in our document “Concerns and Recommendations on the Constitution Bill 2009” submitted on 10th July 2009 to the Chairman of the select committee of the whole house on the Constitution Bill 2009, recommended this issue under the heading “Voting by Amendment”. Alas, when Nov. 25, 2009 came, the powers that be did had not taken heed to this good suggestion and when the votes were counted, 13 out of 15 constituencies voted “NO” to the constitution bill 2009.
Those who advocated a “yes” vote and who today constantly blame those who voted “no” do not take into consideration their own failure. They do not admit how their own stiffneckednes towards good suggestions lead to the failure of a process which should have been for good. One man’s words today should ring in their ears now. His name is Dr. Francis Alexis-Grenadian constitutional lawyer who was head of drafting committee in our constitution reform exercise. He is currently engaged today in Grenada’s constitution reform process. In an article called “Dr. Alexis talks about constitution reform” published online in The New Today on April 6, 2014, Dr. Alexis is cited with some wisdom he clearly learnt from the failure to heed the good proposal of vote by subject in the Vincentian constitution reform experience. Consider the following extract from the article very carefully:
“Dr Alexis told the New Today that after due consideration is given to the suggestions made by the public and recommendations are made to the government based on the wide-ranging consultations, seven bills will be presented for vote by the public.
He said this was agreed upon based on lessons learnt while in neighbouring St Vincent & The Grenadines in which the Ralph Gonsalves government suffered a defeat in the referendum held on Constitutional Reform.
“There’s a risk that one person might vote against the whole package because he/she might feel strongly about something in there so what we are proposing to do is have a number of bills, separate bills so that people will have a choice if they want to vote for going to CCJ — we will have a bill for that — if you want to have a bill on recall of members of Parliament there might be a bill on that although that might be mixed up with other bills,” he added.
“Controversial subjects like the make-up of Parliament, whether you going to go republic it would be wise not to entangle these issues with non-controversial issues. Let (not) the non-controversial issues suffer from the controversy affecting other bills and everywhere that we go most people think that’s a good idea. We’re going to have separate bills for the people to have choices, the people are saying that makes a lot of sense,” he said.”
What a lesson we clearly taught Dr. Alexis and one he has chosen to learn from as he encourages respect for his people’s choice (Grenadians) in such an important exercise. I do not hear in his words any damnation of the idea as long and drawn out, costly, waste of time or any maligning of supporters of this method as unprogressive and unpatriotic. I and the TIRL raised this issue totally apart from any political party association in SVG. It was the people’s voice like mine and Tirl’s that championed this point and our writings of the past are there to prove it. In 2009 in St. Vincent, the haughtiness of the leaders of the process prevailed against the good suggestion of the people. Then on Nov. 25, the people demonstrated that WE THE PEOPLE holds power and that we ought not to be treated with contempt.
I wonder if Dr. Alexis encouraged this procedure back then in St. Vincent’s exercise? Some of our people were accused of being traitors of Country for simply recommending the procedure he now advances for Grenadians. Now he vindicates us by ensuring he does not err in Grenada in the same way the government of SVG erred in 2009 in St Vincent. Best wishes to Grenada with their process. It is time for the seemingly eternally vexed “vote yes” supporters who in public speech reflecting on this matter, never seem interested in acknowledging their faults in the process, to start respecting the freedom of choice of our people and start representing the issue correctly, if they can at all maturely do so. We voted “no” for good reasons, including the fact that we really were not given the choice to vote “yes” freely to what we wanted and no freely to what we did not want. At least Grenada seems to be learning and under the circumstances, I am glad we voted NO.
Founder & Leader
Democratic Republican Party
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