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Strengtening democracy in SVG

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06.NOV.09

Editor: The pre-eminent defining feature of the revised constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the FURTHER DEMOCRATIZATION OF VINCENTIAN SOCIETY, largely through the strengthening of the position of the working people. The constitution is replete with examples of such strengthening – from the Preamble to the last clause.{{more}} The conclusion, after an objective review, is inescapable – DEMOCRACY IS SIGNIFICANTLY EXTENDED, THE POSITION OF OUR WORKING PEOPLE CONSIDERABLY IMPROVED.

On September 03, when I spoke in Parliament on The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution Bill 2009, I noted that this is a “special time” for our nation’s working people. Never before in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a government so sought to formalize, to codify the transfer of so much power to the working people. Never before has such a concerted effort been made to place real power in their hands. Never before have their concerns, their aspirations, their dreams been so captured, so reflected in a document. Never before have Vincentians been so consulted on the future of our nation.

Not only does the revised constitution fulfill our repeated election-promises. More importantly, its substance carries the stamp of popular consultations and the progressive social democratic outlook of the Unity Labor Party. The deepening of democracy is, therefore, inevitable!

But such deepening is seen by some as a dangerous anathema. Take, for example, the New Democratic Party. In its 1998 Election Manifesto, it said: “The New Democratic Party will set up an independent constitutional review commission to examine the constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in consultation with the citizens of the state”. Their 2001 Election Manifesto stated: “A KINDER, GENTLER SOCIETY PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST – CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. The NDP is convinced that the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is in need of a thorough review and reform in light of our experience since 1979. Accordingly, the NDP will appoint a Constitutional Review Committee consisting of nationals drawn from Government, the Opposition, the Trade Unions, the Farmers, the Women’s Movement, the Governor General’s nominees and other significant interest groups, under a Chairperson jointly approved by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition and adequately financed to undertake consultations nationally and from overseas nationals, and to submit proposals for revision or replacement of the existing constitution”. (p. 25).

Did they say “adequately financed?” Who is making noise about the $4 million for the referendum’s educational exercise? Had the NDP not broken ranks on constitutional reform, the expense would have been much less.

Note also “replacement of the existing constitution”. The NDP obviously had not ruled out a root-and-branch on the old (i.e. present) constitution. Against such an option, their current protestations ring hollow.

It is, therefore, not the FACT OF CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE that worries the “NO” campaigners. Rather, it is the substance and direction of that change which are giving them nightmares. Here is a revised constitution which objectively advances the position of the dis-advantaged. Can one seriously expect the big capitalist class to support the inclusion in the constitution – for the first time in our history – the right “to participate in collective bargaining activities and agreements”?

The three main leaders of the NDP, Linton Lewis (Chairman), Arnhim Eustace (President), and James Mitchell (Founder) all millionaire capitalists, predictably are leading the “No” charge. Their utterances (often illogical, indeed comical were it not for the seriousness of the occasion) are but a fig-leaf that cannot hide the nakedness of their own class interests. They operate in tandem with their big backers, some of whom have, for decades, waged battles against the unionization of their workers.

So the revised constitution is that line in history and society which is forcing our hand, insisting that we take a stand. Are we for a greater participatory democracy that embraces the Vincentian majority in determining their destiny? Or, we for retaining a colonial, elitist apparatus which sucks power from the many to the few?

Those who are on the line, reluctant to take a real stand (hiding behind a disagreement with a clause or a word here and there or with the date of the referendum) ought to re-position themselves firmly with the “YES” MOVEMENT on the understanding that the revised constitution is an “unfinished task”.

The immediate historic responsibility is to win the November 25th referendum with more than requisite numbers. Reports from all corners of the nation point to solid support for the acceptance of the revised constitution. The “NO” campaign is clearly floundering. The comprehensive mobilisation of our people must continue unabated. This revised constitution is for a BETTER LIFE, BETTER NATION FOR OUR PEOPLE. We must defend it, promote it and vote for it!!

Minister Mike Browne

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