Our Readers' Opinions
December 30, 2009
Lessons from the recent Referendum


Editor: Now that the dusk has settled following the recent Referendum, the time has come for introspection.

It is clear that the campaign leading up to the referendum represented a vote of confidence on the performance of the present Government and, on the whole, did not represent a vote on the several issues at hand.{{more}}

This can perhaps be attributed to a considerable extent to the failure of local newspaper columnists and intelligencia to analyse and to educate the population, without prejudice and their own personality considerations. As Mr. Andy Johnson (who was in St. Vincent covering the referendum vote for the “Trinidad Express “) has observed, “the apparent absence of knowledge or understanding about constitutional arrangements in states such as Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica caused some of the “no” voters to object to the new provisions for a President, using the Guyana model as their point of reference.” (Trinidad Express – 26 November 2009).

It is accepted that the 67% approval in the present Constitution is almost a “no-win “consideration. One wonders as to the motive for its inclusion in the present Constitution. The United Kingdom itself does not hold referendums on amendments to its own Constitution as evidenced by the recent decision of the U. K. Parliament to dispense with the Privy Council in favour of a new U. K. Supreme Court. Indeed what self-respecting Caribbean Man would now want to retain the Privy Council as his Final Court of Appeal, not only because of the recent developments in the U.K. itself, but also when one recalls that several eminent lawyers have, over several years, been produced by the Caribbean some of whom have even been summoned to service by the Privy Council itself.

It is understood that even the advocates of the “Vote No” campaign were themselves not opposed to several of the important and democratic amendments which were being proposed. However, the manner in which the Referendum questions were put precluded a vote being taken on individual proposals for amendment. If this were true, then this brings to the fore one of the cardinal principles in a referendum exercise – the need to “disaggregate the questions so that answers may be forthcoming on individual elements. While this might be considered a somewhat lengthy and time-consuming operation, it has the advantage of preventing a situation such as has occurred in St. Vincent, where, as well-known Caribbean journalist Rickey Singh has observed, “Gone – baby with the bath water (“Trinidad Express” 2nd December, 2009).

Much time, money and effort had been expended on the Referendum exercise, and these ought not to be thrown overboard, particularly as there was general agreement even among the “Vote No” advocates, as to the need for several of the major proposals which a new Constitution ought to contain.These must be salvaged. In this regard I make the following suggestions “stripped “ of any political party or other associated considerations on my part:

1. A new Constitutional Review Body of 5 persons, say, be appointed with a mandate to prepare a new referendum exercise within 3 months of appointment.

2. The new body would comprise persons of stature and known for their independence of political party positions.

3. Appointment would be by the Governor General, acting in his own deliberate judgment after consultation with political parties and civil society organizations.

4. The new Constitution Commission would, as its first exercise, review the data and responses collected by the previous body and separate those issues which were considered to be generally acceptable from those of a controversial nature. In this regard, further consultation would take place on the latter as well as on any new proposals which may be brought forward.

5. Issues which do not attract a “reasonable” consensus would be omitted from the new referendum exercise.

6. Questions in the referendum would be “disaggregated “and put separately.

7. A deadline must be fixed for holding the new referendum.

8. The suggestions herein contained are being made, given the provisions in the present Constitution for a 67% affirmative vote for adoption. What of “a more than 50% majority”?

The most fundamental error on the part of the previous exercise was to request approval “carte blanche” and “en bloc “.

Merry Xmas and a Happy 2010 citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Errol. O. C. Cupid.