Upon accepting the invitation to speak to you on why constitutional reform is important for national development, I was thrown in a state of deep introspection to clearly understand the topic. I asked myself on many occasions, how can a process that over the last weeks has become so controversial develop our nation? I managed to come up with some points which I will share with you.
At 11:59pm on February 6th, 1974, amid demonstrations and firm opposition the then Prime Minister and his team lowered the Union Jack and hoisted the Grenada flag. That symbolic gesture, for all intents and purposes , was supposed to signal the start of a new dispensation in Grenada. Becoming an independent nation means that Grenada now has full authority to make her own decisions with regards to the allocation of state resources and how the rule of law is disseminated. Despite our new found “freedom’ when we gained independence, we inherited a constitution that was designed by England for its dependencies , including Grenada. While I would agree that the current constitution has served it purpose and has been able to maintain law and order for decades. However, I would be hypocritical not to mention that the constitution does have deep colonial undertones that does not reflect us as a nation that has evolved.
Samuel Moyn , a Harvard University Professor , explained in one of his research papers why laws need to be changed over time, allow me to share some of his thoughts. He explained that laws may need to change due to changing community values. Values across society changes over time. What people in society may consider important and relevant within one generation may alter over a transitional period of time. In order to remain relevant, the law must uphold and reflect the values and beliefs of society in the present time. For example, people’s perspective revolving around issues such as women’s rights have changed over time, as such, laws must be enacted to address this change. He further went on to suggest that Another reason why laws may need to change is due to changing community awareness. As a national community, we are much more informed today and aware of relevant issues largely due to the speed and efficiency of communication. As informed citizens, we put pressure on lawmakers to amend or introduce legislation in areas that we believe need to change. He also touched on technology. One reason why laws may need to change is due to the progressive nature of technology. As technology is continually developed, with that comes features which may be used in a harmful manner to society. As technology’s capability is being grown, the law should be changed and adapted to remain relevant and purposeful. An example of this is the Parliament of Grenada’s decision to enact the Electronic Crime Bills which seek to control the use of communication technology, especially when it is used to defame people’s character.
Years ago, laws were expected to regulate behaviour, however, people now expect the law to uphold individual rights as well as protect people from harm. As such, the laws, more so, the constitution has to take a more active role to ensure that it remains relevant.
Let us look as the current Grenada Constitution Reform process and how it is expected to develop us as a nation. Time does not permit me to go through every bill so I will take a microscopic view on those that I believe are important.
Strengthening Governance and Ensuring that the electoral process if without blemish, is important to the development of any country. I will take the liberty to suggest that when the constitution reform committee decided to include bill #2 , they also agreed the the process must be strengthened. This bill seeks to replace what we refer to locally as a ‘one man show’ , to the establishment of a commission that will manage constituency mapping, the establishment of boundaries and the supervision of elections. When it comes to matters of election , ensuring that it is free and fair is extremely important. I am certain that the recommended make-up of the commission will no doubt ensure the democratic principles of our electoral process will be maintained.
Earlier on in my presentation, I spoke about Grenada not being fully free from the grips of colonial powers. Evidence of this lies in our court system. The privy council , based in the United Kingdom, still remains our final appellate court. Bill # 1 seeks to change our final appellate court the Caribbean Court of Justice. A court that understands the culture of the Caribbean, are in tune with current affairs of the region and way more affordable to access. The ability of citizens to access justice with ease and affordability is the hallmark of a developed and developing country.
We all grew up hearing the old adage “Knowledge is Power”. Power to live a decent life, Power to earn a decent income, Power that brings you respect and dignity, collectively , power to a nation to develop. Education is the only means that can open up the doors that lead to employment, and through it food, shelter and better quality of life and national development. An educated nation is a productive nation. But we us to reach a high level of development, we must ensure that education is readily available for children in primary and secondary schools. The clause that speaks free education for children up to 16 years of age , in bill #6, certainly seeks to use the education route to develop our country and ensures that at-least the future generation can have a better life.
Some of the factors that free education has on national development are:
- Improved quality of life:
Free education would lead to more educated people. More educated people in the society leads to overall improvement in the quality of life in the society. Through better employment and elimination of the struggle for basic needs, people would concentrate on the higher aspects of life, such as improving administration and management of issues that impact the society in general. Therefore free education would have a very positive impact on the overall quality and thinking in the society.
- Better governance:
More educated people would mean better governance from the grassroots to the national level. Educated people would make better choices in electing their representatives and are better equipped to question corruption and misuse of power. Therefore, education is not only the remedy for the ills of unequal wealth, but also the remedy for the ills that plague our administration and governments. By making education free, we prod our society towards the path of better governance.
Intelligence and talent are not the forte of the wealthy alone. There is lot of untapped and undiscovered talent and intelligence lying covered under impoverishment and destitution. Free education opens the doors of opportunities to these talented people. Through free education, we can ensure that the talented and intelligent can gain the assurance of a better tomorrow through maximizing their academic potentials.
As mentioned earlier , I did not intend to go into every bill that is part of the constitution reform process, but I am sure that the examples I gave clearly illustrated how the process of constitution reform , once successful and has a clearly defined implementation strategy can help develop our nation.