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Grenadians likely to vote on constitutional reform in October

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 12.55.38 PMFrom Jamaica Observer

ST GEORGE’s Grenada (CMC) — Grenadians are likely to vote in a referendum to change the island’s constitution in October, but the final decision lies with the Keith Mitchell administration, the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC), Dr Francis Alexis has said.

Earlier this week, the Senate approved the eight Bills that would allow for changes to the Grenada Constitution once two thirds of the voter population approve the measures.

Parliament last month also passed legislation that allows the island to replace the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), as its final court.

“The Supervisor of Elections has said that he will be ready to conduct a referendum some time in October but he will have to consult with relevant Government agencies such as the Office of the Attorney General to set the date,” Alexis told reporters.

He urged the general public, especially the voting population, to fully embrace the public education programmes being conducted throughout the island by various community groups, noting that the sessions will give voters further clarity on the legislation regarding constitutional reform.

“We want people to understand what the entire process is about and to take a decision based on conscience and not on political belief and support.

“In the end we don’t want people to call for a new vote as we see happening somewhere else,” said Alexis, who described 2016 as a referendum year for many nations.

Besides the Brexit vote that led to Britons voting to leave the European Union after 43 years, there were similar votes in the Bahamas, the Netherlands, and Bermuda. Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda is expected to stage a referendum before year-end to determine whether or not it will replace the London-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court.

Senior counsel in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Robert Branch, who is the focal point for the committee in the ministry, said that the discussion around the month of October is based on two reasons.

“Firstly, international best practice recommends two months of education for such an exercise because after that the people become weary and secondly the Office of the Supervisor of Election also said that they will be ready by October,” he said.

Branch said that the required budget for the referendum vote will be close to two million EC dollars (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents).

The UN Development Fund is providing EC$500,000 towards the public awareness, through grants for community-based organisations such as the church and civil society groups while the Government of Grenada is providing a further EC$500,000.

Branch said that remainder of the funds will be used as operating expenditure for the electoral officer.

“For the last general election the cost was just about EC$600,000 but because the process will require more than estimated, it will cost some more, that is why we are budgeting at that amount,” said Branch.

Alexis said that with the Parliament giving approval to the Bills, he believes that other international donors will give support to the referendum which will requireGrenadians to say yes or no on the ballot paper.

The Bills approved by legislators include one that changes the name of the State from ‘Grenada’ to ‘Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique’ and another would institute term limits for the prime minister; ensure that there is always an opposition leader; enable parliament to provide fixed dates for general elections; institute an elections and boundaries commission; introduce the modern styling ‘Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’; and require that allegiance be sworn, no longer to the Queen, but to Grenada.

Opposition Leader Nazim Burke, who voted against the Bills in the Senate, called on the government to name the date for the referendum.

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