National Democratic Congress party Leader, Senator V. Nazim Burke says the result of last Thursday’s national referendum on constitution reform comes as no surprise to his party.
Speaking at a press conference the Friday after to vote Burke said, all it does is confirm the party’s fears and concerns it had from the beginning of the process
He said from the beginning NDC had warned the government and the Constitution Reform Advisory (CRAC) that they were setting up the referendum for failure, based on a flawed process and the refusal to consult with the populace in a meaningful way.
The party he said had also made the point that the approach was steeped in arrogance and partisanship and was likely to result in a monumental waste of scarce national resources
As it turned out, of 71,241 eligible voters in Grenada only 22,000 or so voted, representing 32% of the voting population. This confirms, Burke said, the lack of interest, lack of awareness and the overall apathy of the people towards the process.
The Party Leader pointed out that from the very outset, the NDC took the position that it would support constitution reform that is meaningful and would result in real improvement in the operation of our democratic system.
The party, he insisted, maintained that at the end of any reform process the people of Grenada must be satisfied that the politicians are more accountable to the citizens and would not be at liberty to engage in reckless irresponsible, high handed behaviour to the detriment of the citizens and the image and reputation of the country.
“We advanced the view that the process of constitution reform afforded us a historic opportunity to address the gaps and ambiguities identified in the 1985 and 2006 constitution reviews and therefore enhance and improve the functioning of our democracy and bring it in line with international best practices”, said Burke
He said the party had called on Government not to proceed with the introduction of the constitution reform bills into parliament on December 4 of last year, but rather reopen the consultation process so as to afford more broad based consultations, with a view to arriving at some national consensus on what should finally be included on the ballot, on referendum day.
The NDC leader said instead of approaching the issue of reform as a genuine national issue, free of partisan politics, the NNP administration played hide and seek with the process, rejected the recommendations of the CRAC and produced seven bills for consideration in the referendum.
He added, “The prime minister’s position on the bills changed according to what he thought would bring him and his party the greatest favor”.
“First he called on the people to vote their conscience and free will, then he changed his mind and he and his party were calling for a yes vote. Finally he suggested that only three bills were worthy of serious consideration”.
The decision by the prime minister and members of the cabinet to openly and unabashedly call on the citizens to support only three of the seven bills, all of which were sponsored by his government, sent an unambiguous and inescapable signal that the politicians were only prepared to morally invest in three bills leaving the other four to languish, opined Burke.
According to him, as the leader of the nation the prime minister drew a line in the sand and set the stage for a political standoff among the populace.
He said when the decision was made to hold the referendum in October; his party expressed the view that the people were unprepared for a referendum at that time since they were not sufficiently educated on the proposed bills and had not had sufficient consultation on them.
He went on; “despite the expressed sentiments of NDC, members of civil society and many other individual citizens, the government went ahead in its arrogance with the referendum thinking that they could go it alone”.
“NDC not wanting to politicize the process called for a conscience vote, confident that the people of Grenada were wise enough to see the farce, which was presented to them and treat it the way it deserved. The people demanded respect; that their voices be heard and decided that they would not be fooled any more”.
Burke said; “the reform of the constitution is an extremely serious matter and ought not to be lightly treated, too much is at stake. Any change to our constitution must have the fullest participation by and tangible input of the people”.
“Every citizen must be afforded the opportunity to know and fully understand what changes are going to be made and what these changes will mean for our constitution and democracy”.
The NDC Party Leader promised that an NDC administration would undertake and complete the reform of the Grenada Constitution so as to create a national constitution, which reflects the aspirations of the people, has the tangible input of the people and builds a better bond between the people and the constitution.