R. Rose
November 20, 2009

Forward ever, backward never

Next Wednesday’s referendum on a new Constitution for St Vincent and the Grenadines is a significant milestone in our history. It will be the first time that we as a people get the opportunity to actually have a say in determining our governance structures. We can argue (as we are doing now) whether that “say” is adequate, whether the governance structures are precisely the ones that you or I would wish, whether we needed “more time” to study the constitutional proposals etc.{{more}} etc. Yet there is no denying the fact that we are in a position to say whether we approve of the Constitution Bill 2009.

All the hulabaloo in the world cannot disguise this fact. Nor can we escape the reality that if we reject the Constitution approved by our elected representatives in Parliament, we will be making fundamental statements of our own. First, Parliament will find itself sidelined in its lawmaking efforts, legally and constitutionally. We have had occasions, in 1981 and latterly in 2000, when Parliamentary actions have run afoul of the people, but extra-Parliamentary methods were used then to enforce the will of the people. This time we are using our hard-won constitutional right to vote to either support Parliament or overturn its decision.

Then there is the most significant part of the equation. Approval of the Constitution Bill means a new Constitution for St Vincent and the Grenadines. But failure to attain the British-imposed threshold of a two-thirds majority means that we the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines prefer to live in the constitutional house that the British built, rather than in one of our own creation. For us, in the 21st century, that would be saying that the dictates of the British monarchy, the mechanisms of English lords and princes, are preferable to anything fashioned through the efforts of our Parliamentary organizations. For that was what constituted the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC).

The Constitution Bill 2009 emerged through a long drawn-out process in the course of which the ULP, via the likes of Ronald Marks, Audrey Gittens, Robert Fitzpatrick and Ken ”Ironman” Browne, made contributions. Unknown to many who buy the political diatribe fed to them, the NDP too, in the person of Nicole Sylvester, Israel Bruce and Elvin Jackson, made contribution through the life of the CRC. And there were the representatives of the teachers, Public Service Union (in spite of what some may have us believe today), the private sector organizations (Employers Federation and Chamber of Commerce) and the two other major trade unions. It did not stop there for women, youth, farmers, the Credit Union movement, the Bar Association; sporting and cultural organizations were all part of the constitutional callaloo. The Christian Council provided not just spiritual guidance but at times spirited input in the debate.

One can understand those being misled by their political misleaders. But how can people who know better who actually time and again advocated constitutional change and pointed out the inadequacy, now say NO to a new Constitution fashioned through our own efforts? For that is what it amounts to, reflecting our own homespun Constitution, for what? To keep the current one, a Constitution imposed on us on October 27, 1979, in which our humble efforts at having some input were rejected by the government of the day? A Constitution, the framing of which was boycotted by the Parliamentary Opposition of the day (Joshua and Mitchell)?

It is tragic that our referendum has come to this – degeneration into anti-communist vitriol, lies and slander on one hand while on the other bills boards and posters point to economic and social projects of government and crude slogans about resuming hanging. We deserve better than that. The referendum should be decided in intelligent debate and discussion, not by mudslinging and electioneering. At our most crucial moment since Adult Suffrage in 1951, we are split down the middle, easy prey for those who would divide us for their own nefarious purposes.

Whatever the imperfections of the Constitution Bill 2009, it remains a step in the right direction, a forward movement of our people, retaining all our fundamental rights and freedoms and providing interesting democratic innovations. Like many in the country, there are aspects of this Bill with which I am unhappy, but the baseline is comparing it with the current one. I have no doubt that it is a vast improvement. Those who say otherwise are entitled to their opinion but as a patriot I will take my home brew anytime.

In conclusion, I would like to say to those “educated” citizens who shamelessly resort to red-baiting (anti-communist smears) to remember their place in history, which will not absolve them. And those who still moan that there should be “more time”, please devote some of your time this weekend to studying both documents.

On Wednesday, November 25, our choice must be in favour of moving forward. FORWARD EVER, BACKWARD NEVER!!!!!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.