R. Rose
December 23, 2009
Saying thanks to the CRC

SINCE the conclusion of the Referendum on the Constitution Bill 2009, there has been no shortage of comments, analyses, explanations, condemnations and congratulations. The singular absence has been a word of gratitude simply saying thanks to those whose dedicated work since 2003 made this outpouring of constitutional debate possible and make Vincentians aware at the minimum that there is something called the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and that we have the power, if not the will, to change it to suit our national interests.{{more}}

I refer here to the Constitution Review Committee (CRC), appointed in 2003, with the main objectives of : (1) “Doing… all and every act necessary to review the existing Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to submit recommendations in the Reports to the House of Assembly regarding reforms of, and /or changes in, the existing Constitution.” (2) Organizing and managing public consultations at home and in the Diaspora. (3) Preparing and implementing public information and education programmes to ensure and maintain the efficacy and integrity of the Constitutional Reform process.

Over the four- year period 2003/2006 (inclusive), the CRC approached its work with a level of commitment and dedication that is unmatched in the history of our country. Before embarking on any public drive, the first task it set itself was to ensure that CRC members, no Constitutional “experts” themselves, became familiar with the existing Constitution and the issues involved in constitutional reform. The CRC became a virtual study group for the first couple months of its existence, studying the Constitution of SVG, examining comparative constitutions in the Commonwealth, and acquainting themselves with various documents on Constitutional law and constitution reform. The Research Officer made available to the CRC played a part in this, but such was the enthusiasm of the CRC that he was always under constant pressure to deliver more.

He was part of a skeleton staff that the CRC had, far from adequate for the enormous task that it was undertaking. In addition to their day-to-day duties, they had to endure exhausting marathon sessions of the CRC, sometimes extending, after a hard day’s work, up until late in the night with all the attendant problems of transportation. Yet they undertook these duties without murmur, even though that almost every month they had problems in being paid for their work. In spite of Parliament having voted to establish the CRC, the indefatigable Chairman, P.R. Campbell, had the nightmarish task of having to lobby and cajole to ensure that these servants of the people received their remuneration. Rarely were they paid on time in contrast to the very public servants charged with expediting the process.

The first major act of the CRC after its internal education sessions was to commission the printing of 10,000 copies of the present Constitution for widespread distribution. Never before in our thirty-year history has the Constitution of our country been so freely available. This document was used as the basis for the first round of public consultations, carried live on radio in most cases. I was amused recently to hear an exchange on live radio about these consultations with the comment that “much more could have been done…” Of course, much more can always be done, but don’t people scan their radio stations daily and nightly for all kinds of talks? The Constitution was not then a “hot” political issue, and none of the parties even tried to get their principal supporters and members involved in promoting it.

The consultations, throughout the length and breadth of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, touched every constituency, if not every community. They demanded further sacrifice from the Commissioners of the CRC in terms of time and travel. This was heightened further on the visits to the Diaspora. It hurts me to hear some people comment as though the Overseas Missions undertaken amounted to a big joy ride. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This level of sacrifice on the part of the Commissioners has never been fully appreciated. I mentioned the problems to get remuneration for CRC staff, but it also extended to securing allowances for the overseas consultations. It was as though the Public Service itself, or at least senior elements within it, did not understand the need for constitutional reform and the commitment needed to underpin it. This attitude seemed to have rubbed off on the public. The worst aspect is the vilification of Mr. Campbell. I have already written on this score, and have been vilified for it. “Water on duck’s back,” as far as I am concerned. But with this attitude, it should be no surprise that the Constitution Bill 2009 was not approved by the electorate.

The pity is that any meaningful further attempt will involve sacrifice. But who will be prepared for that again? The fools like myself, prepared to have another go, no matter what the cost, are few in number. We blew a splendid opportunity. The least we can do is to say a big THANK YOU to the CRC. Special words of praise for Chairman P.R. Campbell and his Deputy Noel Jackson, the ever-supportive Muriel Byam, Joel Abraham and Bertram Commissiong Q.C., who kept the reform flag flying in every nook and cranny, Mr. “O.B” Browne who ensured the tees were crossed and every i dotted. A word of commendation to NDP representative Elvin Jackson, who maintained principle even when his party began its descent on the slippery slope to a “NO” vote.



THANK YOU ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE OF SVG.

l Renwick Rose is a

community activist and social commentator.