AS I SEE THINGS: Constitutional reform and national development
For the longest time, Caribbean countries have been functioning with constitutions that were inherited from the British, even though those countries moved, several decades ago, to political independence from that colonial power.
While these constitutions have served our societies well over the years, there is clearly need for change to ensure that the supreme laws of our lands are consistent with the values, norms, beliefs, traditions and expectations we embrace.
Although there are many dimensions to constitutional reform, one of the issues that will take centre stage is the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate court in our jurisdictions. That is surely going to be the case in the upcoming referendum on constitutional reform in Grenada, come November 24. The outcome of that vote is anyone’s guess.
But why is there a need for constitutional reform in Grenada and other countries at this time? There are two fundamental reasons for constitutional reform: First, to enhance democratic goals within the society. This can be because of shortcomings identified over the years of functioning with the existing constitutional framework; global developments impinging on the society’s cultural and value-norm changes; changes in expectations among a substantial portion of the populace; technological developments which raise issues not encountered previously; and changes in the global environment which have potential existential implications for everyone (for example, exponential growth in the drugs trade and organised crime linked to it, and its potential to undermine entire governments).
Clearly, with the growth in access to education and communication, people are both in a better position to participate in the country’s governance, and are eager to be able to move beyond “once-every-five-years-democracy” to year-round, participatory democracy. This would require substantial adjustments to current constitutions in most countries.
The second reason for constitutional reform is to position countries to meet economic challenges which have the potential to either enhance living standards substantially, or lead to stagnation, if not addressed appropriately. This second rational for constitutional reform thus speaks directly to the nexus with national development.
To ensure that constitutional reform does in fact lead to national development, many laws have to be revised or implemented along the way. These laws must be wide in focus and cover critical issues such as property and property rights, land-squatting, business bankruptcies and leveraged buyouts of companies, compulsory land acquisition by government, the treatment of debtors, the placing of constitutional limits on how much debt (as a percentage of GDP) a government can accumulate, and the issue of fiscal limits on governments (except during carefully defined emergency situations), among other critical things.
You see, setting and implementing policies geared toward national development is one thing but ensuring that proper laws are in place to protect individuals, businesses and other economic agents is quite another matter.
Constitutional reform, if done properly, provides one sure mechanism for ensuring consistency between laws and national development. Reforming our constitutions should therefore be a top priority for all governments in the Caribbean if we are serious about moving forward with our respective agendas for national development.