R. Rose
September 25, 2009
Constitution Reform – (IV) In defence of P.R.

As the debate over a new Constitution for St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues to rage, much is being made in some quarters over the “whys” and “whethers”. One curious line of argument has even emerged, contesting the validity of the cabinet-appointed “Yes Vote” Committee, headed by Prime Minister Gonsalves and either opposing the spending of state funds on the November 25th referendum or, contending, quite curiously, that the public coffers should also be used to fund the “Vote No” campaign as well. We shall come to these matters.{{more}}

Firstly, though, I must again appeal to the Parliamentary Opposition to display a level of maturity and responsibility in carrying out its campaign to derail the constitutional reform process. We can agree or disagree with the provisions of the proposed Constitution and whether one ought to support it or not. But is it necessary to launch vitriolic attacks on the Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Steering Committee, Mr. Parnel Campbell Q.C., as seems to be orchestrated through the media, radio programmes in particular? What has Mr. Campbell done to deserve this? Is he more of a so-called “political co-co-bay” than those who, eight/nine years ago would virtually kill for Ralph, but who are now daily leading his crucifixion? What short memories we have!

Before engaging in such tirades against “PR”, one should try to dispassionately assess his contribution to the constitutional reform process. Mr. Campbell was not the original choice as CRC Chairman, but as a member of that body, I can testify that the choice for him to replace the original Chairman, who resigned to become President of Dominica, was an overwhelmingly popular one within the CRC itself. As to steering the process, Mr. Campbell’s contribution has been monumental, the single greatest one towards ensuring not just the drafting of a new Constitution, but in soliciting the views of our people on the same. There are times when Commissioners disagreed with him, disapproved of his handling of this or that matter, but in the end, his role in holding the process together and propelling it forward was indispensable. It may be perceived in some quarters that he was perhaps overly-sensitive of the views of Parliament and Parliamentarians on some issues, even when seeming in contradiction to his personal views, but there is no decrying his contribution.

To those who go on radio and poison the minds of the gullible with “revelations” that Campbell is paid (what did they say, $6,500 per month), I say that is today’s world. St. Vincent and the Grenadines cannot pay Parnel for what he has done to advance constitutional reform. Those familiar with his legal practice, including clients, can tell you how much constitutional reform involvement caused him to neglect his legitimate business and livelihood. Ask CRC and CRSC Commissioners about the thousands of long hours put in beyond the call of duty! Is that how we repay him?

That is why it is so difficult to get capable and committed people to commit themselves to public duty, including political representation. Ironically, it was one of the early issues that the CRC itself discussed. Abuse and vitriol are likely to be your rewards. It is bad enough coming from misguided and ill-informed supporters, but it is simply not acceptable at the highest level. Burns Bonadie and Carlyle Dougan, among others, left Labour for the NDP. Both of these gentlemen were rewarded with ministries. By contrast, Mr. Campbell is at pains to point out that he has never renounced the NDP and is still a card-carrying member. Why the hostility then?

The culmination of all this is the ridiculous call for the resignation of Mr. Campbell, on the grounds that he is a member of the “YES VOTE” Committee, made at the launch of the “VOTE NO campaign by none other than the Leader of the NDP itself. This was taken even further by the refusal of the invitation to address the joint CRC-CRSC-Civil Society Roundtable discussion on Monday of this week, on the spurious grounds that the NDP does not recognize Mr. Campbell’s authority and Chairmanship! Come off it! Is that how we display statesmanship? Is “Boycott” the only batsman in the NDP line-up? A more sober approach is needed or, to continue the cricket analogy, more a Sobers approach.

P.R. Campbell was appointed Chairman of CRC and subsequently CRSC by the unanimous approval of the House of Assembly. His appointment was proposed by Prime Minister Gonsalves and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. Has the NDP elevated itself above the Parliament of the land? What do they expect P.R. to do? Work assiduously to ensure that a Constitution Bill is drafted after a six and half-year long consultative process and then not advocate its approval?

It is that flawed line of thinking which argues that the “VOTE NO” campaign should be publicly funded. Parliament, on the approval of both sides of the House, set the constitutional reform process in motion. That process has produced the Constitution that we are being asked, by Parliamentary motion, to approve on November 25th. Why would we spend public funds on a process and then put more taxpayers money into funding a campaign to reject it. Forgive me if I am too dumb to understand, but it makes no sense to me. Perhaps there are others who share my stupidity. This is not a ULP Constitution; it is a proposed body of rules to govern our land. Those who break with the wishes of Parliament cannot, in all good conscience, expect public succour. In 1981 and 2000, those who opposed Parliamentary bills had to find their own resources. They were successful by being engaging, intelligent, mature, realistic and resourceful. If only these qualities can emerge in 2009.


Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.