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Disappointing referenda results

Disappointing referenda results

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We at SEARCHLIGHT share the deep disappointment of Caribbean patriots in the results of the referenda in Antigua & Barbuda, and Grenada on Tuesday in favour of the retention of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal.

In so doing, the people of those countries have rejected the opportunity to endorse our own regional Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final arbiter of legal appeals in the region.

There were many spurious arguments, led in each country by the political opposition, but which while playing on the fears of a people seemingly distrustful of their own capacities to meet challenges, really reveal a more fundamental fear, deep inside us. It is the same fear which confronted us when we were on the verge of Independence – could we handle it or should we not trust our colonisers further?

It has deep historical roots for even on the eve on Emancipation, there were those among the enslaved population who wondered how we would cope without “massa’ and his symbols of “civilisation”.

Marcus Garvey’s “Black Pride” and “Back to Africa” were met with the same trepidation. It is a legacy that much as we may choose to delay its coming, the reality of overcoming our own difficulties must be confronted some day.

Those who argue about the time being “not right”, cannot point to any “right time”, save to speak to deficiencies in our systems and errors on the part of governments. Holding on to the Privy Council has not prevented the occurrence of these challenges, nor will it provide any solutions.

There is no doubt that in highly partisan, politically-tribalised societies like ours in the Caribbean, governments must share some of the blame for their attitudes and tendencies to want to monopolize each process and to seek maximum political capital from them. But refusing to move forward in order to punish or defy such governments does not benefit us in the long run.

Our own political opposition here spearheaded an embarrassing defeat for the Government in the 2009 referendum, but within a year, the NDP itself suffered similar electoral embarrassment in December 2010. We need to rise above short-term thinking and be able to make strategic long-term choices in the best interests of all our people.

The process to arrive at fundamental decisions is sometimes, oft times, flawed, but that is a challenge for which we will have to find collective solutions. But opting out, as in the cases of the low turnout in the CCJ referenda in Antigua and Grenada, is certainly not a solution. Is it that we don’t care or worse, don’t want to know?

It is instructive that much as we are reluctant to pursue fundamental constitutional change, the constitutions bequeathed to most of our countries at Independence themselves contain hindrances to our forward progress. Thus there are built-in provisions which have set the bar for fundamental constitutional change so high, as much as two-thirds of the votes cast, that it becomes almost impossible in a politically partisan society to cross such thresholds.

It is a pity, not only that Antigua and Grenada have rejected our own CCJ, but also that in most of the rest of the Caribbean, people demonstrated more interest in the US elections of November 6 than in our own Caribbean voting on the same day. It says a lot about our people and our state of consciousness.

Yet, disappointment and embarrassment aside, we cannot afford to give up. Our politicians will shy away from constitutional change but we did not reach this stage because of politicians alone. We have a responsibility as civil society to take up the challenges.

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