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AS I SEE THINGS: Constitutional reforms


AS I SEE THINGS: Constitutional reforms

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In recent weeks the issue of constitutional reform has taken centre stage in Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago. Although discussions about reforming Grenada’s constitution of 1973 started many years ago, it is reasonable to conclude that Trinidad and Tobago is further along the way since debate has already taken place in the Lower House in that country and at the time of writing this piece everyone was still awaiting the final vote in the Senate to determine whether or not the proposed amendments to that country’s constitution will eventually take place. In Grenada’s case, a national vote on the issue is scheduled for March 2015.

Listening to some of the discussions in Grenada, it is noteworthy that some ordinary citizens are questioning the cost associated with constitutional reforms at a time when the economy is weak, the fiscal deficit on the current account is high, and unemployment is way in excess of 40 per cent.

While I do understand the concerns being advanced over the cost of the exercise because of the economic hardships faced by many Grenadians, it is an undeniable fact that good governance must be one of the many important pillars of our democracy and economic way of life.

As the chairman of the Constitutional Reform Committee in Grenada has noted, the constitution and economy are inseparable. And he is indeed absolutely correct!

Proceeding along the lines of reforms to our various constitutions in the Caribbean, several issues would naturally emerge.

While it is not feasible to fully exhaust those possibilities in a column of this nature, I nonetheless wish to zero in on two areas that should be of some importance to all and sundry throughout the region since they speak directly to accountability and transparency.

First, term limits for the president exists in both the United States (US) and Russia. Subject to correction, I am not aware of any president in the US who has served two terms, but later returned for a third. However, the current president of Russia had previously served two terms in office, followed by one term as prime minister and is now back serving for a third term as the head of the country’s executive branch.

When we in the Caribbean propose term limits for our prime ministers/presidents, what model are we contemplating? Would our prime ministers/presidents be able to return after a five-year absence for a third or even fourth term as is the case with the existing president of Russia? And, should our ministers of governments also be subjected to term limits?

Second, most countries in the region have a governor general as the head of state. As part of our constitutional reforms, do we need to continue along the lines of two separate offices of head of state and head of government or should we follow in the footsteps of the US, for example, and simply elect someone to lead the country, period?

These two issues alone should convince us in the Caribbean that even though constitutional reforms are necessary, the road ahead is paved with complexities that ought to be fully explored through massive public education programmes before any vote is cast to effect changes.

Other than that matter, I am fully supportive of moves to alter the highest laws in our lands. How about you?