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Mischief-making sideshow on proposed Constitution

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09.OCT.09

EDITOR: Mr. Oscar Ramjeet, the Guyanese-born husband of Mrs. Mourine De Freitas-Ramjeet, former official in the opposition NDP when it was in government, and his wife have both been engaged in a mischief-making side-show against the proposed new Constitution from their self-imposed exile.{{more}} Mr. Ramjeet is a former Solicitor General under the NDP administration and is now a Senior Law Officer in the service of the Government of Belize, no doubt awaiting forlornly a return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines under the NDP, in the twilight of his relatively undistinguished legal career.

On October 01, 2009, in an article entitled “Is the St. Vincent Constitutional Amendment Bill Flawed?” and published by CaribWorldNews on the Internet, Mr. Ramjeet concludes that there have been legal blunders which leave the Bill open, possibly, to successful legal challenge. On October 04, 2009, his wife Mourine, in an article published by CaribNetNews, goes further by citing unnamed legal experts (presumably her husband) that the Bill is flawed; she invites interested litigants to contact her telephone number (which she published) to secure funds to commence the legal challenge. So, Mourine, why don’t you come to SVG and mount the challenge yourself? Are you afraid of having your silliness exposed?

The truth of the matter is that Mr. Ramjeet’s article is laced with factual and legal errors which render his opinion worthless. I wonder if the Belizean authorities know anything of all this gratuitous mischief-making!

The essence of Mr. Ramjeet’s contention is that “it seems as if the Constitution Bill is flawed. The reason is that parliamentary rules and procedures were not adopted since the measure was hurried through Parliament”. It is evident from Mr. Ramjeet’s commentary that he knows little or nothing about the Standing Orders, Conventions and Practices of the House of Assembly. He also misdirects himself on the facts. As a consequence, his opinion is as erroneous as it is irresponsible.

The true factual and legal situation is as follows:-

1. On May 28, 2009, the SVG Constitution Bill, 2009, had its Introduction and First Reading in the House of Assembly. This was correctly done!

2. Under Section 38(3) of the existing Constitution (the SVG Constitution Order, 1979), a bill to alter the deeply entrenched provisions of the Constitution shall not be submitted to the Governor General for his assent unless:

(a) there has been an interval of not less than ninety days between the introduction of the bill in the House and the beginning of the proceedings in the House on the second reading of the bill; and

(b) after it has been passed by the House the bill has been approved on a referendum by not less than two-thirds of all the voters validly cast on that referendum.

3. The beginning of the proceedings in the House on the Second Reading of the SVG Constitutional Bill occurred on September 01, 2009, and the Bill was passed on its Third Reading on September 03, 2009, by the requisite majority in the House. All this was correctly done!

4. Clearly, more than 90 days elapsed between the Introduction of the Bill (May 28th) and its Second Reading (September 1st), as required by Section 38(3) of the SVG Constitution Order, 1979. This was correctly done! [Thus, Mr. Ramjeet is factually wrong on this in his commentary].

5. Under the Standing Orders of the House, its Conventions and Practices, the SVG Constitution Bill was put to a “Select Committee” (comprising in this case all the members of the House) after the First Reading and before the Second Reading. There were eleven (11) sittings of the Select Committee. Memoranda were received from over 20 persons or organisations; and several individuals availed themselves to appear in person before the Select Committee. The Select Committee concluded its work on August 25, 2009. The Report of the Select Committee, the Minutes of the Select Committee, and the Bill which came out of it, were presented to the House in accordance with its Standing Orders. This was correctly done!

6. During the debate on the Second Reading of the SVG Constitution Bill, 2009, some editorial changes/corrections to the document were required. These were circulated to the members of the House and a written motion was tabled by the Prime Minister and duly seconded, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, to commit the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House to make the corrections/changes. This was correctly done!

7. On the floor of the House on September 03, 2009, the Prime Minister announced that the referendum day would be November 25, 2009.

8. On September 16, 2009, the Referendum (Alteration of the Constitution) Bill was passed unanimously in the House of Assembly. Contrary to Mr. Ramjeet’s assertion that Mr. Arnhim Eustace is opposed to the referendum, Mr. Eustace and his parliamentary team, on a division of the House on the Referendum Bill, voted for its passage. This they did less than 24 hours after they had launched their “Vote NO” campaign. The NDP is not opposed to the referendum; they are opposed to the contents of the SVG Constitution Bill. The NDP know that the procedure for the SVG Constitution Bill and the Referendum Bill was correctly followed; if not we would have heard their opposition.

9. On September 29, 2009, the Governor-General assented to the Referendum (Alteration of the Constitutional) Act, No. 14 of 2009. It was published in the Gazette on September 30, 2009.

10. On September 30, 2009, the Governor-General proclaimed the Referendum Day as November 25, 2009, in accordance with Section 4 of the Referendum (Alterations of the Constitution) Act.

Thus, we have the sorry spectacle of Mr. Ramjeet’s wrong and jaundiced views on a serious matter like our nation’s Constitutional reform, followed a few days later by his wife Mourine’s call to “constitutional arms” against the proposed new Constitution, based presumably on the authority of her husband as “legal expert”. What a world! Even Mr. Eustace and Sir James Mitchell must be appalled at this sort of embarrassment. With friends like those, Sir James would say, who needs enemies?!

Benson Straugh

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