Vincentians to vote on New Constitution
March 20, 2009
Vincentians to vote on New Constitution

St Vincent and the Grenadines will be going to the polls by November this year – not to elect a new government, but rather to approve or reject a new constitution.{{more}}

Last Friday, February 13th, at a press conference at Cabinet Room, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves introduced the members of the Committee of Draftspersons who will have the honour of drafting the new constitution.

The committee is chaired by Grenadian Attorney Dr Francis Alexis QC and includes Dr Hamid Ghany of Trinidad and Tobago, who is the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, and Parnel Campbell QC, Chairman of the Constitutional Review Steering Committee (CRSC).

The committee is short one member.

A person should have been recommended by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace. However, last July, Eustace led his party in a boycott of the constitution reform process, even though he had initially supported it and in 2002 seconded the motion to review the existing constitution.

Eustace said that there were certain matters of governance that he wanted addressed by the government.

“One entity in the exercise cannot have a veto power over what happens,” Dr Gonsalves, however, said last Friday, reiterating his government’s determination to have a new constitution voted on by year-end.

As he gave remarks at the press conference, Speaker of the House of Assembly Hendrick Alexander appealed to the Opposition to rejoin the process.

Dr Gonsalves noted that the constitutional reform process was part of the manifestoes of both major political parties in the 2001 and 2005 General Elections.

He described the process towards constitutional reform, which included public consultations as a “revolutionary democratic process” that is “profound and solemn”.

The Prime Minister suggested that generations to come will hail those who were involved in the exercise of creating this “truly home-grown” constitution, the same way Americans exalt their founding fathers.

“This document is intended to stand the test of  time, to govern us as a free and democratic people…” he said.

He credited the now dissolved 25-member Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) for its exceptional work, which he said was done on a “shoe-string” budget.

As he outlined the time table for completion of the process, Dr Gonsalves said that he did not want the matter of constitutional reform to be considered in the heat of an election season.

General Elections are constitutionally due in St Vincent and the Grenadines by March 2011.

“I do not want to have the matter of the referendum on the constitution too close to an election season so that the referendum becomes a prisoner to partisan, political posturing,” Dr Gonsalves said.

The proposed timetable will require that the drafting committee submit a draft revised constitution by the end of April. The 1st reading of this revised constitution in parliament will be done by the end of May.

The next three months will be used for public awareness and the hammering out of any final details.

The CRSC, the Committee of the Whole House of Assembly, and the drafting committee will remain in place during this process.

The bill will then go back to the House for a second reading and debate in September. It will require a two-thirds majority in Parliament before it can be taken as a referendum to the people.

The referendum will be held in November, when the voters will decide whether or not (by a two-thirds majority) to accept the new constitution and the time frame for its adoption as law.

This will be followed by the 3rd and final reading in the House of Assembly. (KJ)

Constitutional reform process

  • October 8th, 2002 – The House of Assembly approves unanimously a resolution which mandated the review of the constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • February 10, 2003 – The 25 member Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), headed by Parnell Campbell QC was officially inaugurated and consultations with Vincentians at home and abroad began.
  • February 27, 2004 – The CRC submitted an interim report to the House of Assembly.
  • February 26, 2005 – The CRC submitted its Final Report to the House of Assembly.
  • September 28, 2006 – CRC presents its revised final report to the House of Assembly, following further consultations with the public and a series of meetings with the Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly.
  •  June 7, 2007 – The House of Assembly approves a motion which among other things, appointed a nine-member Constitutional Review Steering Committee (CRSC) consisting of the former chairman, the deputy chairman and seven former members of the dissolved CRC.
  • August 16, 2007 – November 5, 2008 – Meetings held between the Committee of the Whole House and the CRSC.
  • March 2009 – A committee of draftspersons, headed by Grenadian Attorney Dr Francis Alexis is appointed.
  •  April 2009 – A draft, revised constitution should be submitted by the drafting committee.
  •  May, 2009 – 1st reading of bill in the House of Assembly.
  •  June – August 2009 – Public awareness of new constitution and the fine tuning of details to be done.
  •  September 2009 – 2nd reading and debate of the bill on the new constitution in parliament to be followed by a vote which requires a 2/3 majority to pass.
  •  November 2009 – If passed in parliament, the new constitution will go to a referendum where the people will decide (by a two-third majority) whether or not and when to replace the existing constitution with the new one.