Thursday, November 19, 2009

Searchlight Editorial

November 25 -

An opportunity to demonstrate our maturity as a nation

On Wednesday of next week, the voters of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will have their first experience in dealing with a referendum, a popular vote on a single issue. Ever since the introduction of Adult Suffrage in 1951, we have been voting for individuals or parties, in specific constituencies, where there has been a wide range of issues, which would influence voting patterns and choices. The referendum, voting for or against the Constitution Bill 2009, is a novelty for us all, requiring a clear focus and a level of maturity based on understanding of the issue before us.

That issue is whether the electorate is in favour of changing the present Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and its replacement by its amended and updated version, the Constitution Bill, approved by Parliament on September 3, 2009. The Bill itself is the end product of a process which commenced with the adoption by Parliament of a Resolution on October 8, 2002, in favour of constitutional reform, which gave birth to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to spearhead the reform process over the last six years.

The most significant features of that Resolution and the work of the CRC itself were: (i) bipartisan agreement to proceed and participate, and (ii) the considerable involvement of civil society, representatives of that sector being dominant in the CRC. At the end of it all, however, one can only express disappointment in both the degeneration of the unified approach into a politically partisan one and the consequent sidelining of civil society influence on the outcome.

What should have been a straightforward matter of endorsing a made-in-SVG Constitution has instead become a “with us” or “against us” campaign, with both parties in Parliament launching thinly -disguised “Yes” and “No” committees to carry out what for all intents and process seems to be a dry run for the next general election. That is now an undeniable fact, even if one wants to argue about who is to blame for such a sad state of affairs. What is worse is that six years after the virtually - free distribution of over 10,000 copies of the current Constitution, and following countless hours of public discussion on, it as well as the soliciting of views about its amendment, there is still so much ignorance on the subject.

It is heart-rending to hear people mouthing concerns and fears about a whole set of side issues which have absolutely nothing to do with the choice before us. Those who refrained from making positive input into the proposed Constitution are today strewing the ground with boat loads of red herrings and confusing people in the process. This is not a referendum on the performance of the government but a sacred opportunity for us to shape the laws which would govern our affairs for years to come.

If truth be told, even taking into consideration reservation and alternative views, we are yet to hear any convincing argument against the reform of the present Constitution or to see any reason advanced that the Constitution Bill 2009 is less beneficial to our country than the one we got in 1979. We will never all agree on all aspects of any Constitution proposed but we need to make a balanced judgment. That decision must be based on a comparison of the proposed Constitution with the one we have at present, and not with any other one, real or imagined. It is an occasion for informed choice, not for emotionalism or political partisanship.

Come November 25, let us all demonstrate that as a nation, we have the maturity and common sense to make the right choice and to continue along the path of democratization, good governance and social and economic development.