Grenada Constitution Reform Special Assembly
Grenada National Stadium
Saturday, 5 November 2016
By Wendy C Grenade, PhD
Lecturer in Political Science,
Department of Government, Sociology & Social Work and
Deputy Dean (Outreach)
Faculty of Social Sciences
The University of the University
Cave Hill Campus
I wish to thank the Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee for inviting me to address you this evening on the topic “Constitution Reform and National Development.” I am indeed humbled and honoured to have been given the opportunity to do so.
I wish to commend the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique for the vibrant discussions and citizen activism that have riveted the country over the past months. Perhaps not since the lead up to independence and the events of 1983 have the nation turned a mirror on itself to inspect its inner core. I commend the current Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, (as well as those who were involved in earlier stages of the constitution reform process), the NGO community, trade union organizations, religious groups, private sector entities, the media and all of you — citizens of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique — for your participation in the discussions on constitution reform.
I must say from the onset that I am here in my individual capacity as an academic, whose research interests include questions of democracy, governance and politics in Grenada. I locate myself within the Caribbean’s scholar-activist tradition, with an intellectual responsibility to engage in public education, advocacy and activism. I am also here as a Grenadian citizen and nationalist, passionate about the quality of democracy in our country and the advancement of nationhood. I also come to you as a regionalist, unwavering in my support for deeper Caribbean regionalism.
My address this evening is guided by four broad objectives. I intend to:
- Situate constitution reform within the larger process of independence;
- draw attention to the significance of self-definition and self-governance;
- underscore the importance of the Constitution as an instrument to improve the quality of democracy; and
- show the relationship between constitution reform and the wider imperative of Caribbean regionalism.
CONSTITUTION REFORM & THE LARGER PROCESS OF INDEPENDENCE
A Constitution is a living, dynamic instrument of governance. As nations mature, it is incumbent upon them to engage in self-reflection, as part of a continuous process of nation-building. Our fore parents overcame enslavement and colonialization; struggling against grave odds, for justice, dignity and independence. They broke through inhumane barriers in their time, to reclaim their humanity, so that today we can boldly question the quality of state-society relations. They pushed against the grain, in their time, so that today we can stand on their shoulders and push the boundaries of our democracy. Our ancestors sang songs of freedom and dreamed of the day when, we, their sons and daughters would be free enough to write the rules that govern us; that is, to reform the Constitution. They dreamed of the day when their grandchildren would be free enough to convene a Special Assembly, as we are doing here, to openly discuss how they chose to govern themselves.
My sisters and brothers, as we discuss the serious business of the referendum on constitution reform, we owe a debt to their struggle and we honour their memory. What we are doing is taking a small but bold step as part of a larger journey.
Our current Constitution served the function of decolonialization. Our Constitution at independence was largely constructed by our departing rulers. Forty odd years after independence, as we seek to mature as a nation, it is incumbent on us to build on that Constitution so the rules that govern us are aligned to our aspirations as a people. Our own late Professor Simeon McIntosh was relentless in his call for us to make the Constitution our OWN. Through his teaching, research and activism, he has made a significant contribution to our understanding of constitutionality in Grenada and the Caribbean. I wish to honour his memory.
Sisters and brothers, our Constitution is part of the independence compact. Are we satisfied that the independence compact is intact? Can it withstand the compulsions of the twenty-first century? What does independence mean in the contemporary moment? Each one of us, as we go about our daily lives, is a member of this independent political community; undergirded by its social structure and supported by its economic system. In referring to the pre-independence period, our own late Dr. Patrick Emmanuel argued that, “…it became deeply ingrained in the Caribbean political consciousness that the stability and legitimacy of the political systems depended both on the enjoyment of political freedoms per se, and on the capacity of the political system to generate tolerable improvements in the material well-being of Caribbean peoples.” Emmanuel argued further that:
The legitimacy of the political system…became in good measure dependent on the legitimacy of the economic and relatedly the social system. In turn the legitimacy of the economic and social systems have come to be perceived by many as dependent on the degree to which the values of equality and democracy carried by the political system would invade and transform these economic and social systems (Emmanuel, 1993, p. 2).
The question, then, becomes how can constitution reform strengthen the independence compact? My central argument, therefore, is this: since there is a direct relationship between the political, economic and social system, there is an interrelationship between the Constitution and people’s lived realities. You may be wondering, and you do have every right to wonder, about the relationship between the Constitution and the salaries or wages you receive? What does it mean as you struggle to send your children to school? Sisters and brothers, the Constitution is about us and the parameters that govern how we live, how we work, how we engage with one another and with the world. I know we do not stop every day to think about all this. We are most times in survival mode, preoccupied with satisfying our basic needs. Yet, the Constitution, and any form of constitution reform, matters to us individually and collectively as an independent people. After all, section 106 of the Constitution of Grenada declares:
This Constitution is the supreme law of Grenada and, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
The general preamble to the Constitution gives us profound insights into the society we strive to build. In the preamble we affirm that our nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge ‘the fatherhood and supremacy of God.’ We declare that we firmly believe in the dignity of human values and that all are endowed by the Creator with ‘equal and inalienable rights’ and that rights and duties are correlatives. Those rights are summarised in the special preamble to Chapter 1 of the Constitution which ensures protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms. These include the rights to life, liberty, security, conscience, expression, assembly and association, and property. The protection of such rights is pivotal to the advancement of the rule of law and the building of parliamentary democracy. To keep these in tune with our growing society, we need constitution reform.
Those rights and privileges, too, influence how we access justice and education, how we do business, how we relate to the environment, how we worship and affiliate with one another within various associations. Our constitutional framework provides limits on what we can and cannot do as we coexist in a society that is becoming more and more diverse and complex. It spells out rights and privileges and the duties or obligations we have to obey. Therefore, we conduct our everyday lives within a constitutional menu of rights, freedoms and obligations. To enhance the instrument that governs us, is to fortify the foundation of our independence.
SELF-DEFINITION AND SELF-GOVERNANCE
Second, the process of constitution reform is an act of self-definition through a process of self- governance. The ability to define ourselves is one of the hallmarks of meaningful independence and sovereignty. As we deliberate on the issues, we are unravelling myths and truths about ourselves. As we participate in and question the process, as we should, we are bringing to the fore our contradictions and possibilities. In fact, as ideas contend, we are refining our collective selves. This process of self-renewal is critical as our nation matures.
Self-definition is best exemplified when citizens can exercise power by directly participating in public decisions that affect their lives. If our Constitution at independence was largely a Constitution constructed by our departing rulers, it is incumbent on us to build on what works in that independence constitution and at the same time construct a new constitutional pact that can guide us into the future.
On 24 November, we will be afforded an opportunity to engage in a process of self-governance. This form of direct democracy, ordained of section 39 of the Constitution regulating the alteration of the Constitution, is an act of people’s empowerment. We often complain, as we should, that as citizens we do not get the opportunity to participate in the political process except for those five minutes when we vote for candidates to represent us. The upcoming referendum is an opportunity to engage in the political process in a direct way. This, my sisters and brothers, is about self-governance. We would be determining the rules that the nation will be guided by for the next 40 years perhaps. This is serious business. You will be making the rules that will guide your children and grandchildren. Importantly, we are afforded a rare opportunity — perhaps the only such opportunity in our lifetimes — to make decisions ourselves, about how we are to be governed, outside the framework of representative institutions, such as political parties. It is a direct way to contribute to shaping the political system, without being confined to party affiliation and influenced by party loyalty.
And it is very important to emphasise that when you vote in the Referendum you are not to restrict yourselves to narrow partisan party politics. On the contrary, you are exercising your patriotic conscience, approving or disapproving each of the seven Constitution Reform Bills on the merits of every single one. Some of the Bills might be controversial, such as the one on Fixed Date for Elections; others might more easily lend themselves to consensus, as the one to make the Caribbean Court of Justice the final appellate court for Grenada. Let all of us in Grenada show the world that we can rise to this high level of nation building; voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to each Bill, as our best judgment determines.
In the political science literature, some scholars argue that since citizens are often not interested in politics and in some cases do not fully understand the political system, referendums are too complex for the public to understand even as outcomes may have far-reaching consequences. Another argument against the validity of referendums is the fact that low voter turnout can bring the process into question, as was the case in Hungary recently. Additionally, referendums on highly contentious issues have the potential to polarize the society, deepen social antagonisms, and make it difficult to determine the general will. The controversial Brexit and the recent Colombian Peace Agreement referendums are glaring examples.
I believe one way to benefit from the advantages of direct democracy through referendums, while countering the downsides, is to have intense and sustained public engagement. Many Grenadians rightly question the process and the lack of genuine inclusiveness of the proposals articulated by the people in the final package of reforms. Perhaps we missed an opportunity to forge national consensus around an issue of immense national importance. Yet, despite that reality,
I encourage all of you, in the remaining time that we have, to ensure that you are knowledgeable about ALL the issues. Read widely. Observe keenly. Listen to the arguments on all sides. Ask probing questions. One advantage of the method to be used in the Grenada referendum is that, unlike the choice offered to our sisters and brothers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009, we will be afforded the opportunity to cast a separate vote on each issue. We have choices regarding the Bills. That approach provides a mechanism to better determine the general will.
THE QUALITY OF DEMOCRACY
At its core, a referendum on constitution reform should improve the democratic health of a society. While the concept of democracy is multifaceted and complex, there is general agreement that a central pillar of democracy is inclusiveness. A constitution that sets out the rules that govern the entire nation must be inclusive. For example, it is an historic fact that the state of Grenada comprises Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Yet, the name of the state does not include Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The referendum provides an opportunity to strengthen democracy by enabling us to extend inclusiveness to the sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, with respect to the name of the state. I wish to posit that if at independence the name of the state was Carriacou and Petite Martinique, with no mention of Grenada, there would have been an opportunity, through this referendum, to amend the name of the state to include Grenada. Sisters and brothers, this is no trivial matter. The citizens of Nevis, Barbuda, Tobago and the Grenadines are recognised and made visible in the very name of their respective states that they legitimately belong to. In my view, a gross injustice was done to our sisters and brothers in Carriacou and Petite Martinique and this historic wrong must be corrected. Our eminent lawyers can work through the legal intricacies of ‘the islands in between.’ The opportunity for a referendum may not present itself in our life time ever again. We owe it to the sons and daughters of Carriacou and Petite Martinique to redress this wrong.
Another dimension of democracy is social equality. Any nation that is worth its salt must be concerned about social equality. As a democratic right, every Grenadian must be given due process and equal protection under the Constitution. Children must have access to education as a constitutional right. This augers well for improving human capital and by extension economic development. Women and men must benefit from gender justice, as a constitutional right. A humane society must be concerned about rights that ensure the disabled are respected and protected as equal members of society. A progressive small island developing state must be concerned about environmental sustainability and earth democracy. We have a responsibility, as we mature as a nation, to be guardians of God’s earth, which is our heritage to bequeath to future generations.
Within that context, I must touch on BALLOT PAPER NO. 6: CONSTITUTION OF GRENADA (RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS) (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2016 which seeks to “amend the Constitution to: (i) to expand the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals including rights of citizens under arrest; (ii) to protect intellectual property; (iii) to protect children generally, whether born in or out of wedlock; (iv) to guarantee public funded education to all children under the age of 16 years and those with disabilities under the age of 18 years; (v) to guarantee gender equality so that both men and women shall have equal rights and status in all spheres of life; (vi) to establish directive principles regarding: (a) the protection of the environment; and (b) the establishment of an enabling environment for persons who are physically, visually, aurally and or mentally challenged.”
I will agree that this Bill is loaded and is generating controversy, particularly as it relates to gender equality. I am sure many of you want to vote for other aspects of the Bill, such as the right to “guarantee public funded education to all children under the age of 16” or to “protect children generally, whether born in or out of wedlock.” The dilemma for many of you is that you want to support the aspects of the Bill that are positive and that can genuinely advance democratic freedoms. Yet, you do not want to vote for any aspect of the Bill that may threaten cherished values and undermine the social fabric of the society. You are well aware that your vote on the Bill will shape the very character of the society for generations to come.
My sisters and brothers, gender equality should not be conflated with sexuality rights. Gender equality has always been concerned fundamentally with ending women’s marginalization, subjugation and exploitation. As I said in a recent address to celebrate the Anglican High School’s centennial,
“…while there have been tremendous advances in gender equality, there is still unfinished business. Despite massive gains, UN Women confirms that women continue to participate in labour markets on an unequal basis with men, and there is still wage differentials between women and men. Women still bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work in the home. More women than men still work in vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs, often unprotected by labour legislation.”
We cannot lose sight of the fact that gender equality includes equal pay for equal work. For example:
- If your daughter is working on a construction site driving a truck, she should receive equal pay as the male truck drivers;
- If your son is a male nurse in the hospital, he should receive equal pay as the female nurses for equal work done;
- A female director in a company or on a Board should receive equal pay as her male counterparts.
I define gender equality as the promotion of human development and overall well-being within a societal framework that does not discriminate against an individual based on his or her sex. Gender equity is generally defined as a situation in which there is fairness and justice in the allocation of benefits, resources and responsibilities between women and men. Gender equality is a fundamental pillar that must undergird any democratic society. The struggle for gender justice has been long and hard. We must never lose sight of that historic struggle. We did not overcome enslavement and colonialization to now turn our backs on the idea of social equality. Sisters and brothers, we are better than that! Gender equality is one of the cornerstones of social equality. Locating relations of gender within the Constitution is an act of empowerment for women, men and children.
THE IMPERATIVE OF CARIBBEAN REGIONALISM
Our Constitution must also link Grenada to the rest of its Caribbean family and to the rest of the world. Small island developing states cannot individually navigate the rough waves of the global system. Caribbean regionalism is a necessary imperative for Caribbean development in a world increasingly characterised by unequal power relations, unfair rules and growing uncertainty. The current issue of corresponding banking is a glaring case that suggests a frightening trend in world affairs. Our lyrical master David Rudder, reminded us that we live in a world that “doesn’t need islands no more.” Importantly, we cannot individually cope with the multiplicity of complexities that confront us: climate change, the severity and intensity of natural disasters, transnational organised crime, infectious diseases, to name a few. We are part of a regional security complex and Grenada’s destiny is intertwined with the destiny of our Caribbean sisters and brothers.
Therefore it is incumbent on us to update the constitutional rules of engagement to ensure that Grenada is constitutionally aligned with its regional commitments. This in turn means that Grenada can maximise regionalism to strengthen its position in the world and so better advance the aspirations of its people.
The question is, how can Grenada benefit from something larger than itself without losing its identity and sovereignty? I am of the firm belief that regionalism provides an opportunity for shared and enhanced sovereignty. Sisters and brothers, this is a strategic necessity. Forty odd years since independence we must revisit what sovereignty means. I posit that despite the inherent contradictions of regionalism – insularity, xenophobia, uneven development, which generates winners and losers – the pooling of sovereignty as one Caribbean (to include Cuba soon I hope) is an indispensable imperative in the twenty-first century. A regional sovereignty will strengthen our autonomy, boost our prospects for human, social and economic development and promote our collective security. As we search for possibilities in the midst of increasing global uncertainty, a stronger Grenada is a stronger Caribbean and a stronger Caribbean is a stronger Grenada.
Within this larger context, the referendum on constitution reform allows us the opportunity to determine whether we will replace the London-based Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). As a nationalist and regionalist, I fully endorse Grenada’s accession to the CCJ as the final Court of Appeal for Grenada. Those who express concerns about political interference in the judiciary are justified, given the small size of the region and the political culture within member states of Caricom. Yet despite this reality, there may not be any judicial system in the world that is fully immune from political interference. In the United States, the Supreme Court is characterised by a sharp ideological divide. Currently, the Republicans in the United States Congress have refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. In the case of the Caribbean, Caribbean Heads of Government are to confirm the CCJ President, but only on nominations made by the CCJ Judicial and Legal Services Commission; all other CCJ Judges are selected and appointed directly by that Commission, with absolutely no input from any politician. No CCJ Judge may be removed by any political directorate. Importantly, Caribbean Governments do not directly fund the CCJ. These mechanisms insulate the CCJ from political interference.
Some observers who are concerned about Grenada’s accession to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction, refer to a statement by Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, who was reported to have said that attempts at judicial interference are on the rise and that “These attempts emanate from places and persons and by methods which you would least expect.” The Chief Justice went on to charge legal minds that the judiciary, as an institution, and through its judicial officers, must remain resolute and focused in their mandate to ensure equal access to justice and equal justice. According to the Chief Justice “They must fiercely, unhesitatingly and without fear or favour guard and defend their role as protectors and enforcers of the rule of law – the guardians of our constitutions. That must remain our mission – a mission which in every respect is one of the highest callings in a free society.”
To me, that is testimony from the Chief Justice that the Judiciary is well able to stand up to any attempted interference with its independence, no matter the source of such attempt. Further, I read that statement from the Chief Justice as evidence that the goodly Dame has confidence that Caribbean societies will not tolerate interference with the independence of the Judiciary. What is salient for me, is that this eminent Chief Justice is bold enough to call out abuse of power and attempts to meddle in the judiciary. In fact, the Chief Justice cautioned strongly against interference. Her statement should be used to promote the CCJ, not caution against it.
Sisters and brothers, my confidence in the integrity of the Grenadian and Caribbean legal fraternity is stronger, so much stronger, than my fear of political or any other kind of interference and attempts to undermine justice. I call on us to move beyond self-doubt. I call on us to believe in ourselves some more. Our ancestors dreamed of the day when justice will be administered by Caribbean people, for Caribbean people, in the interests of Caribbean people. Their idea of freedom was not a freedom steeped in fear. It was a freedom that replaced self-doubt and fear with self-confidence and self-affirmation. It was a freedom that replaced self-hate with self-love.
It is ironic that many observers who hold a hard and fast position against the fundamental rights and freedoms amendment bill (particularly as a result of the gender equality clause and how it is construed), and argue against international interference, also hold a hard and fast position against the CCJ and argue against regionalism. Have they considered what the Privy Council’s ruling may be should a same sex Grenadian couple challenge the constitutionality of their human rights in the Privy Council? Precedence suggests that the Privy Council will not be guided by Grenadian culture and our religious norms but by international norms and internationally defined parameters of human rights that may run counter to Grenada’s dominant culture.
Against that backdrop, I wish to advance four reasons why I support Grenada’s accession to the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction:
- It is very costly for average Grenadian and Caribbean citizens to access justice from the Privy Council;
- The CCJ is a Caribbean Court that can understand, respect and take account of the dynamics of Caribbean culture.
- There is no guarantee that the Privy Council will continue to provide such services to Caribbean people in the future. In 2009 BBC Caribbean reported then President of the Privy Council, Lord Nicholas Phillips, as saying that Law Lords on the Privy Council were spending “a ‘disproportionate’ amount of time on cases from former colonies, mostly in the Caribbean and that “in an ideal world” Commonwealth countries, including those in the Caribbean, would stop using the Privy Council and, instead, set up their own final courts of appeal;” and
- A “Yes” vote for the CCJ is an opportunity for Grenadians to complete our independence and strengthen Grenadian and Caribbean nationhood.
In conclusion, as a Grenadian citizen, I would have wanted to see deeper and more substantive constitution reforms. I wanted to see a genuinely inclusive participatory process. As a political scientist and a student of democracy, I would have preferred to see a maximalist overhaul of the constitution; not a minimalist tweaking. I particularly wanted to see in the final package of reforms a genuine reduction in the powers of the Prime Minister and the inclusion of the powers to recall elected representatives. That being said, I believe in the maxim, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I am of the view that there is still good that can be salvaged from a process that is far from perfect. The question to ask is this, will we be better or worse off by any amendment.
A vote on the referendum for constitution reform gives us the opportunity to improve the quality of our citizenship. As we vote, we will go through the experience of contributing to the rules that govern Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique perhaps for the next fifty years. As we vote, the ballot box will become the people’s parliament. Importantly, as we vote, we will be afforded the opportunity to transcend party politics; even if for a brief moment.
I must say, any society that finds itself marooned and ambushed by partisan considerations solely, is a society that stands still. When partisan politics dominate the blood stream of a society, that society needs to find its soul. Don’t get me wrong, there must be a space for political parties. We are NNP or NDC as the case may be. We have that constitutional right to associate as we see fit. But just as there must be space for electoral contestation and the exercise of party loyalty, there must be a higher, more noble space to elevate the interest and common good of the Grenadian nation. As a maturing nation, we have to balance our partisan considerations with our God-given duty to our country. Our development challenges are grave. Let’s move beyond zero-sum politics. Let’s embrace the good in the worst of us and let us acknowledge the flaws and contradictions in the best of us.
As we seek to renew our independence compact, it is incumbent upon us to transform the political culture. Genuine transformation will not be achieved through changes in institutions and laws only. As the late Dr. Patrick Emmanuel further reminded us, “political culture is the seasoning that is applied to the raw meat of political institutions” (1993, p. 2). I encourage us to be intentional about how we engage politics. Let’s be intentional about transforming not just the rules that govern us, but the political culture; that is, how we behaviour in political life. A major lesson from this entire process is that citizens must not be passive bystanders but active participants in their governance. Citizen activism must be constant on issues of national development, above the cut and thrust of partisan politics. I again call on the Government of Grenada and other key actors nationally and regionally to include courses on citizenship and governance in the primary and secondary school curricula. Every child throughout the education system must be aware of the instruments that govern them. The future belongs to the young people. We have a responsibility to create an environment that breeds a new kind of society for them. I call on the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, in the remaining time that we have to organize some debates to better expose the youth to the issues and hear from them their vision of how they wish to be governed.
As we continue the conversation in the remaining weeks leading up to the referendum, I trust you will gain clarity on the issues. Grenada is a living and dynamic society and as such it must have a living and dynamic Constitution. The Constitution is a compact and compacts must not be stuck in time. This is an opportunity to renew our compact with Grenada. Remember, constitution reform is about you. It has practical meaning. It is part of a larger process of self- reflection and self-definition. It is not a perfect process, but it is a step in a larger journey toward democratic renewal and the advancement of Grenadian nationhood and Caribbean regionalism. We owe it to ourselves, to those who went before us and importantly to those who will come after us, to exercise our right to vote and to do so with consciousness, boldness and conviction.
May God continue to bless the Government and all the peoples of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
I thank you.