ST. GEORGE’S, GRENADA – (CARIBUPDATE/NOV 24, 2016) – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has made an impassioned plea to Grenadians to vote in Thursday’s referendum that will decide whether or not the 1974 Constitution which the island received on attaining political independence from Britain should be changed.
In a radio and television broadcast on the eve of the vote, Mitchell said that referenda like these do not happen regularly.
“For my generation, and even the one after me, it might be the first and only opportunity that we get to have a direct say in amending a document that was handed down to us, even before we had colour television or access to the internet.
“The world has changed a lot since 1974; and we continue to change with it.Even when struck down by hurricane or bitten by political upheaval, our people have never feared the future. And we do not fear it now.
“We can make a mark for the next generation of dreamers, who will continue to reach for the stars, because we had settled for solid ground on which they can plant their feet,” Mitchell said, noting that as head of the government “I personally appeal to all Grenadians to go out and participate in the referendum on Thursday.
“If you need further information and guidance, speak to your representatives, or your social and religious leaders.”
Head of Grenada's Constitution Reform Commission Dr Francis Alexis casts his vote earlier Thursday in St Andrew's South East. (Photo: Carlyle Noel).
“Whichever direction the vote goes, I am assured of one thing: Grenada will win on Thursday. I look forward to us waking up on Friday as a greater nation,” he said.
Grenadians will vote on seven bills including those that will allow for the island replacing the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court.
In addition, the bills also allow for term limits for the prime minister and changes the name of the tri-island state. They also allow for the appointment of an Opposition Leader.
In his address, Prime Minister Mitchell said that 43 years after the island gained political independence it has “continually fought for the right models to ensure the sustainability and continued advancement of our people. Each time it looks like we have been knocked down, we have picked ourselves up.
“We earned our independence through protests, and emerged stronger from uncertainty. We have regularly and boldly set the tone in the Caribbean basin; flirted with revolution; and despite being marked with the scars, never losing our yearning for change and betterment. Today, this proud Grenadian nation is stronger than ever.
“We are a people marching forward, who have learnt from the past and who now look to the future with expectation. Truth be told, there have never been more opportunities for our youth. And though many challenges remain, we are confronting them courageously. “
Mitchell said that following the restoration of democracy here 33 years ago after the island flirted briefly with a left-wing People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) “our people have always debated how best to tweak our existing constitution to make it more relevant to the dreams and aspirations of every citizen, but particularly, the least among u”.
He said every government since has had discussions on constitutional reform and that in recent years, a multipartite Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee, that represented trade unions, NGOs, churches, the wider civil society, the business sector and political parties, “has fearlessly led the process”.
The committee is chaired by former attorney general and constitutional expert, Dr. Francis Alexis who Mitchell said “respectfully and patriotically accepted this offer to work on behalf of all Grenadians.
“All sectors have contributed to this process; and though we have not always seen eye-to-eye on all the issues, we have been united in the belief that our Grenadian commitment could be made stronger through constitution reform.
“This process has always been about how we deepen the rights of Grenadians; expand the people’s access to justice; build a stronger platform for greater economic sustainability; develop the process of democracy; strengthen the concept of governance and eliminate opportunities for political excesses.”
He warned Grenadians that they would be “making a mistake if we all turn our backs on this historic opportunity.
“All sectors have received much of what they had recommended. All sectors also did not get everything that they had hoped for. And that is both the beauty and essence of it all – that we can all inch forward together. We can still dance, even when the beat is not our favourite tune. “
Mitchell said that some of the bills have turned out, no doubt, to be more controversial than others “but surely there are several others that should not be tainted by political quarrel,” making a plea for the acceptance of the CCJ, the establishment of an Electoral Commission which he said “guarantees fairness and transparency in our democratic process, and removes future suspicion about the conduct of future elections.
“This bill is a practical shout-out to the notion of good governance and transparency. Surely, no one will disagree with that,” Mitchell said, adding that the proposal to change the name of the tri-island state “ is something that many have clamoured for.
“These are three of the seven bills that we can all agree on without any political grand-standing, or the evoking of any fear – real or imagined.
“Many people have rightfully argued for the others – for bills that strengthen the rights of women; promote more transparency in governance; limit the terms for prime minister and guarantee a voice always for the opposition.”
Mitchell said that there are some noble ideals in those four other bills, “and yes, we have heard the concerns from different groups.
“The bottom line is that these are all matters on which we should go out and vote our consciences. Each eligible Grenadian must decide what combination of the seven bills they are comfortable with, and go out on Thursday to vote accordingly”.