Tuesday, 19 August 2014

NATIONAL ADDRESS BY V. NAZIM BURKE, POLITICAL LEADER

NATIONAL ADDRESS BY V. NAZIM BURKE, POLITICAL LEADER  OF THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS (NDC)  ON THE GRENADA CONSTITUTION REFORM PROJECT.

 Tuesday August 19th, 2014

 Sisters and Brothers of  Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, a pleasant good evening to  each and every one of you. I take this opportunity to salute our many visitors, friends and citizens residing abroad who shared our recently concluded Carnival Celebrations

Tonight,  I wish to  address you  first and foremost on the Constitution Reform Project. Over the past few months, a  Government appointed  Constitution Reform Advisory Committee has been actively engaged in a process of consultations  on Constitution Reform, which is expected to  lead ultimately  to a Referendum on the Grenada Constitution.

This Committee is Chaired by Dr. Francis Alexis, Q.C.  a prominent and distinguished, Grenadian  Constitutional scholar and is comprised of fourteen (14) members representing  various stakeholder groups and organizations in our country.

The project scope and purpose as set out  in the Project document is "to conduct public consultations on the Grenada Constitution with the citizens of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique at home and in the Diaspora. This will provide opportunities for citizens to contribute to the revision of the governing fundamental laws and rights. In addition, it will address major gaps and ambiguities identified by the 1985 and 2006 Constitution Review Commissions of Grenada and incorporate the advancement of fundamental human rights and standards. Subsequently, to present an amended Constitution to citizens for judgement through a Referendum.”

THE CASE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
It is important to  emphatically state, at the outset,  that the National Democratic Congress supports the idea of  Constitutional  Reform for Grenada. We have now celebrated  40 years of nationhood. By all measure we are a young nation. Yet, sufficient time has elapsed and sufficient drama unfolded for us to take stock of  how well our original Constitution has served  us, what lessons we can take away from our historical experience to date  and how we might improve it for the benefit, protection and pride of our citizens and future generations.

Indeed,  as  earlier intimated, previous governments recognized this and established  two Constitution Commissions  ( the 1985 and 2006 Commissions) to  attend to this need. The reports and recommendations of these Commissions provide a rich source of learning and raw material for this Committee in fulfilling its mandate.

When the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration came into office in 2008, we decided that it would better advance the process if, rather than creating another Commission, we recruit a Constitutional expert to prepare a working Draft Constitution for public scrutiny and discussion based on the reports and recommendations of the previous Commissions. We approached Professor Simeon Mc Intosh, Former Dean of the Faculty of Law of the Cave Hill Campus of the UWI, now deceased,  ( RIP) who, at no fee to the Government and people of Grenada, prepared a working draft along with explanatory notes which were widely circulated  and discussed inside Grenada and recommendations made to Government .

We  supported  the initiative by the present  Government for Constitutional Reform  and were  pleased that Dr. Francis Alexis,  Q.C., was asked to  lead the effort.  We attached such importance  to this initiative, that we offered our former Political Leader and Former Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas to sit as our party's representative on the Committee.  We did all of this in good faith, setting aside all  narrow partisan interest in the firm expectation and belief  that Dr. Alexis  and his team would produce an output that would significantly  and substantially advance the cause of constitutional reform in our country.

On July 31st,  2014, the Political Leader of the NDC was presented with a copy of the Report of the Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee which we understand was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on or about July 9th 2014.

It is also our understanding that the Cabinet of Ministers have  accepted the Report and recommendations contained therein in their entirety and that the Committee is now charged with the responsibility to continue to advise the  Cabinet in implementing its decision to hold a Referendum  on those recommendations early next year.

SUMMARY OF NDC's CONCLUSION ON THE REPORT

Having carefully  reviewed and considered the contents of the Committee's  Report and its recommendations, we of the NDC  feel constrained to state, without equivocation,  that in our view, the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of  the most salient and substantive issues that must be addressed in any constitutional reform and instead focuses, disproportionately, on   changes which, while proper, will not  materially affect the operation of our constitutional democracy. Moreover, the process adopted and followed by the Committee in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations to the Cabinet  falls  far short of what is, and  must be expected of such a Committee.
 It is not clear from the Report what operating principles guided the committee in its work. However, the NDC is  strongly of the view  that  the proposed amendments to the Constitution leave unattended some of  the most salient and substantive issues that must be addressed in any meaningful  reform of the Grenada Constitution. In this regard, we feel compelled to make specific mention of the following six (6) issues:

I. Term Limits for the Office of  Prime Minister

First, the issue of Term Limits for the Office of  Prime Minister.  The   Constitution Reform Commission (CRC)  of  2006 made the following recommendation in respect of  Term Limits for the Office of Prime Minister: That the Constitution be amended to provide that " no person should hold the office of Prime Minister for more than two five-year consecutive terms."
The NDC takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

II. Fixed Date for Holding General Elections
Second, the powers of the Prime Minster with respect to the calling of General Elections. The Constitution Commission  of 2006 concluded and recommended that the Prime Minister should no longer be able to call " snap elections" and that  " a specific date for holding general elections should be set by the Constitution"
Similarly, the NDC takes  takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

III. Proportional Representation in Parliament

Third, the issue of Proportional Representation (PR) in Parliament. In its Report the  Constitution Commission of recommended that the Parliament  should comprise of four categories of Members, namely, Constituency Representatives, Proportional Representation Members,  Nominated Members or Senators and a  local Government Representative. In his Draft Constitution, Professor Mc Intosh also recommended the first three categories of members.

Since  we already have Constituency Representatives and Senators in our constitutional arrangement, the crucial question here is whether the membership of Parliament should be changed so as to introduce proportional representation. The NDC  takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

IV. Constitutional Requirement for an Opposition Leader at All Times
Fourth, the need for Grenada to have an Opposition Leader at all times. Again ,  the Constitution   Commission  of  2006  suggested an increased role  for the Leader of the Opposition and specifically recommended that some important functions should be performed by the Opposition Leader , such as sharing with the Prime Minister appointment of persons to key positions in the public service. Such an increased role can only be  guaranteed if , constitutionally, the   office  of Opposition Leader must be occupied at all times regardless of the outcome of the general elections for Constituency Representatives. This will best be achieved if the Constitution provide for the occupation of that office by a Proportional Representation Member, should one party win all of the seats in the general elections for Constituency Representatives.

The NDC therefore  takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.
V. A Bicameral or Unicameral Chamber of Parliament
Fifth, the issue of whether the chamber of our Parliament should be  bicameral or unicameral. Simply put, this addresses the question whether our Parliament should be comprised of two separate chambers (one for the Elected Representatives (MP's)  and the other for the nominated Representatives (Senators) or whether it should be comprised of a single chamber where both sets of Members meet together to conduct the business of Parliament.

In its  Report,  the 2006 Constitution  Commission recommended that the National Assembly ( Parliament) should be comprised of a single (unicameral) chamber.
 The NDC  takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum

VI. Election and Tenure of the Head of State
Sixth, the election and tenure of the Head of State. In its report  the Constitution  Commission of 1985  recommended, after nation- wide consultations , that  whether there is a Governor General or a President as our Head of state, that person should be chosen by an Electoral College of all Parliamentarians together with the Chairpersons of the District Boards and the Council for Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
The NDC  takes the position that this issue is of fundamental importance to our democracy and should be put to the people in any Referendum.

The positions we have adopted on these issues are informed not only by the fact that they were all recommended  to be put to a Referendum by the previous Constitutions of 1985 and 2006 but also because there are very sound reasons to believe that Grenada's constitutional democracy may  be strengthened by such reforms.  Constitutional issues are weighty issues. Time will not allow us to go into the details  and justifications for each of these issues  in this address. With this in mind, we have developed a more detailed  statement  setting  out in full the basis of our position. This statement  is being published for the widest distribution and public scrutiny.

CONCLUSION ON THE "SALIENT AND SUBSTANTIAL ISSUES"
It is important to reiterate,  at this juncture, that our desire and expectation  to have these issues addressed in the Constitutional Reform Process was made known at every available opportunity, including by the Political Leader at the Launch of the Project and by  our Representative on the Committee ( Mr. Tillman Thomas, Former Prime Minister) at Committee meetings and public consultations held around the country. Moreover,  calls for these issues to be addressed were repeated and reinforced by members of the public in the public consultations, some of which  were televised.

 For us, it is also important that  we   expressly and publicly acknowledge that  some  of the issues addressed in the Committee's Report   are salient and substantial and were quite rightly recommended to the Cabinet as ones to be put the people in any Referendum.   Without intending to be exhaustive here, these include Grenada's accession to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ; the establishment of an Electoral and Boundaries Commission; the inclusion of the names of Carriacou and Petite Martinique in the name of the State and the refinement of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution.

We take the position, however, that if time, effort and resources are going to be spent on the holding of a Referendum on Constitutional Reform then  the proposed reforms must  address the major gaps and ambiguities identified by the 1985 and 2006 Constitution Review Commissions. This is the stated purpose of the Constitution Reform Project.

In particular, we are of the view that these six issues- not recommended  to the Cabinet as ones to be put to the Referendum- are so fundamental to the operation of our Constitutional democracy, that it would be a misallocation of time, effort and resources to go to a Referendum to alter the Constitution without addressing these issues.

B. ISSUES OF PROCESS
Turning to the  issues relating to the process that was followed by the Committee in arriving at its recommendations, we see four  (4) fundamental problems.

First of all,  as we understood it, a  clear undertaking was  given to the public by the Chairman of the Committee that  after putting together its proposed recommendations, the Committee would hold public consultations on those recommendations  before taking them to the Cabinet for its consideration and determination.  That was not done. In our view,  discussing the proposed recommendations with the stakeholders prior to submitting to the Cabinet would  greatly increase the transparency and credibility of the process and significantly enhance the atmosphere  of consensus.

Secondly, in addressing the Proposals considered by it, the Committee reported in paragraph 14 of its Report that a vote took place among Committee members on July 3rd and July 7, 2014 to determine which Constitutional Reform Proposals coming before the Committee would be recommended to the Cabinet as one to be put to the public in the Referendum. There is nothing in the Committee's Report to indicate or suggest that   before exercising a vote for and in the name of its constituent organizations, committee members sought and  obtained the views  of the members and stakeholders of  constituent groups   which these committee members represented on the Committee.

Without picking on any one individual or organization and simply by way of example,  one might pose the question: before voting yes or no on any of these Proposals did the representative of the Grenada Bar Association first present these  proposals to the members of the bar, indicating the Committee's intention to vote on these proposals for recommendation to Cabinet  and asking them how they might like him to vote?
Before voting yes or no on any of these recommendations, did the representative of the Trade Union Council first present these Proposals  to the Trade Union Council or the individual trade unions, indicating the Committee's intention to vote on these recommendations and asking them how they might like him to vote?

In our view, such a step was critical to the integrity of the process and  ought to have been taken  if the desired  atmosphere of consensus were to be achieved. The failure of representatives to take that step and the failure of the Committee to require and treat that step as a fundamental one throws the credibility of the voting exercise and the recommendations flowing therefrom into serious doubt.

 Thirdly, in our view, the decision of the committee to base its conclusion to recommend  or not recommend a Proposal to the Cabinet as one to be put to the Referendum simply on the basis of a majority vote among Committee members and nothing more  fails to take into account other important  factors and considerations that ought to be taken into account.

Finally, while the Committee was comprised of fourteen (14) persons ( the Chairman and thirteen other persons representing various  stakeholders groups),  there was not a single occasion, in the voting process on these 25 proposals, when all fourteen members exercised a vote.   One proposal ( number 21), had three parts. Thus for all intents and purposes one  can say that there were 27 proposals to be considered. Of  these 27 proposals, Twelve  of the fourteen persons voted on 5  of them. This represented the maximum
number of persons who chose to vote on any single proposal. Eleven persons voted on  another 5 proposals, Ten persons voted on another  5 proposals;  Nine persons voted on 3 of the proposals;   only Eight persons voted  on 7 of the proposals ; Seven persons ( fifty percent of the members of the committee) voted on 1 of the proposals and only 4 person  ( twenty eight percent of the members of the committee) chose to exercise a vote on 1 of the proposals.

No explanation was offered by the Committee in its Report for the apparent  failure or refusal of  members to participate in the vote on these proposals.  It has been reported that certain members of the Committee neither  attended meetings on a regular basis nor participated in the deliberations of the Committee. It can hardly be forgotten that those who were called upon to vote were called to do so in their representative capacity.

In our view, too much is at stake. What at issue is  here is whether  or not to uproot  and replace the entrenched provisions of our  supreme law, as conceived and articulated by our founding fathers forty years ago. Such a decision calls for the highest level of personal responsibility and commitment on the part of those charged with such responsibility and cannot be coloured by indifference, narrow considerations of historical opportunity or political expediency.
The  apparent  lack of  adequate participation   by Committee members in the deliberations of the Committee casts an inescapable shadow of doubt on the completeness of the recommendations submitted to and approved by the Cabinet.

NDC POSITION

In its Report, the Committee indicated that the projected cost of the Grenada Constitution Project is $2,046,928.00.   Ladies and Gentlemen, this project comes at a time when Grenadians are still reeling from the barrage of taxes, duties, charges and fees  that have been forced upon them by this Government. Not only have their disposable incomes sharply reduced but they must face higher prices in the supermarkets and in their utility bills. With close to 40 percent living in poverty and unemployment close to 35percent  these poor families are called upon by the NNP Administration to  make more sacrifices.  If we are going to spend millions of dollars on Constitutional Reform at this time, it must be money well spent.  We simply cannot afford to do otherwise. We can find no justification for treating with the required  Constitutional Reforms in a haphazard  manner.

In these circumstances, and having regard to our present economic situation and the attendant financial burden on the resources of the state,  the National Democratic Congress  will neither  support the proposed Constitutional Reforms in its present construct nor the holding of a  National Referendum  for that purpose.
We have already met with the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee and communicated these concerns to him. In the coming days, we shall formally convey our position to him in writing.
It is regrettable that it has come to this but, as John Roberts noted in relation to the American Constitution, " by ensuring that no one in government has too much power, the Constitution helps protect ordinary [Grenadians] every day against abuse of power by those in authority."

To that end, the National Democratic Congress will support any and all  Constitution Reform initiatives which fully take into account the recommendations of previous Constitution Commissions and adopt a process  which affords the best opportunity to capture  the views of the widest cross section of Grenadians on this most fundamental issue.

Sisters and Brothers, it would remiss of me to conclude this address without making mention of three other developments which are of great concern to the Grenadian people and which glaringly reflect  the continuing arrogance disrespect and insensitivity  of the New National Party Administration.
First, the issue of  the commercialization of Government estates. It is well known that some time last year, the Government of Grenada decided to commercialize four government estates and established an advisory Committee to  advise the Cabinet in relation to this matter.

The decision to lease the Grand Bras estate to a group of Grenadian business persons has been publicly disclosed. At the same time there appears to be a cloud of secrecy around the Mt. Reuil and Belle Vue estates.It has been reported that the  Marketing and National Importing Board  entered a Bid for the Belle Vue estate  alongside a Trinidad individual  and that the Trinidad individual was chosen over the MNIB. It has also been reported that  Ms. Shadel Nyack- Compton  of Belmont estates Limited entered a Bid for the  Mt.Reuil estate  alongside  a Russian Group and that the Russian Group was chosen over Ms. Nyack-Compton. To date the Government has not been transparent and accountable to Grenadian people in relation to the commercialization of the estates. They  have  not told us what the Committee recommended.

They  has not told us why they chose to give these to non- Grenadian persons over Grenadian persons. We call on the Minister of Agriculture to come clean and account to the people on this most important matter. These lands belong to the people of Grenada. They are entitled to know what is going on with these lands.
Second, the Camahogne Park issue. Sisters and Brothers, it has come to our attention that  on July 31st, 2014, the Government of Grenada issues notices to the vendors operating and making their livelihood at Camahogne Park advising them that of Government's decision to remove their booths and put n end to vending operations at the park. The notice that was issued gives the vendors one month to vacate and the notices are copied to the Commissioner of Police. According to the reports received the vendors some of whom have been there for as much as 30 years have been told that the booths will be demolished if they do not move as required.

To date, the Government has not told the Grenadian people what plans it has for the Park. Camahogne park remains the only remaining public space on Grand Anse Beach that is available to the Grenadian people for their recreation and uninterrupted use. It is inconceivable that Government will try to deprive the people of all they have left. In previous announcements, Government officials have assured the public that they have no plans to sell or lease the park to developers.. We therefore call of the Government to come clean with the people and let us know what is happening.

Finally, the Casino Gaming Bill. Last Wednesday, the Government of Grenada brought  a Bill to Parliament to introduce Casino Gambling in Grenada. With the Governments fifteen seat position the Bill was passed unopposed. The decision by the Mitchell administration to table this Bill at this time and in this manner reflects  the continuing program of deceit by which this government chooses to govern. In his previous pronouncements, Dr. Mitchell assured Grenadians that the issue as to whether Casino Gambling  is introduced  into law in Grenada is an issue for the people and that before making any decision on the issue he would take it to the people. Needless to say, and to no one's surprise, that was not done.

The continuing  disregard by Dr. Mitchell and the New National Party  for the needs, feelings and sentiments of the Grenadian  people poses a real threat to our democracy. This uncomfortable situation is facilitated by the deafening silence  on the part of  some groups and individuals who must understand   and appreciate the danger of silence.

In conclusion, therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to call on civil society groups and organizations- the business community, the trade union movement, the NON- governmental community,  religious organizations,  independent self employed persons- busdrivers, fishermen farmers, youth and students - to let their voices be heard on these most important national issues.
I thank you and good evening.

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