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The March to Independence

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– The people take the initiative

The current process of Constitutional Review is one where emphasis is being placed on the input of the population. In the first place, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) set up by Parliament has broad representation from the popular sectors. Thus, complementing, and even counterbalancing, representation from the Parliamentary political parties, there are representatives from organizations representing workers, farmers, women, youth, sports and culture, the private sector, and professionals. But that is not all. {{more}}

The work of the CRC itself is based on interaction with and gleaning the views of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Public consultations, discussions among the various interest groups, interaction with students in schools and at universities abroad, are central to the review process. Nor are Vincentians abroad being excluded, for special provision has been made to ensure the input from Vincentians in the Diaspora. The end product, therefore, is guaranteed to be one emanating from the people.

We can only be proud of this approach, for it is aimed at rectifying the colossal errors made 25 years ago. The process then, at least the official one, could not have been further removed from the present one. Following the passage of a Resolution in Parliament in March 1978, giving the then Labour Government the right-away to proceed to independence, the public was invited to make submissions on proposals for an independence constitution. May 31, 1978 was set as the original deadline. Surely that was involving the people! Or was it?

The invitation to submit memoranda for the new constitution was sent out by the Clerk of the House of Assembly in a letter dated April 3, 1978.

Given this situation, organizations like YULIMO, the Teachers Union and the Civil Service Association (the forerunner of today’s Public Service Union), all called for a much more broad-based, people-centred approach to the independence process. YULIMO itself wrote to the Government urging the establishment of a National Independence Committee (NIC). In other words, just as today Parliament has set up a representative CRC, the government of the day was being called upon to take the lead and establish a NIC.

Sadly, this call was ignored. Worse, the Government initially rejected requests for an extension of the May 31 deadline to allow for a wider participation in the independence discussion. Requests by Civic organizations for radio time on the sole radio station, state-owned Radio 705, were not favourably considered. It was as though the Government was heading in one direction and the people in the other. Indeed, only one week after inviting submissions on the Constitution, the Premier Milton Cato, set out for London to open discussions on independence. And by May 19, a release from the Premier’s office announced a London Constitutional Conference to be held in September (1978).

However on that same May 19, some twenty organizations met in Kingstown to discuss the independence-related matters. That meeting resulted in the formation of a National Independence Committee (NIC) and the passage of an historic resolution which makes interesting reading. I shall quote a few sections here for the record.

…”We the representatives of organizations of our country recognizing independence to be a necessary step in the political and economic development of our country, re-affirm our support, in principle, for National Independence for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and make it clear that our present actions do not represent opposition to National Independence”…

The Resolution went on to point out that the organizations found it well nigh impossible to meet the May 31, 1978 deadline and requested…”an extension of three months…that is to August 20, 1978.” The next paragraph of the Resolution was a most significant one, as today’s constitutional exercise bears out.

“Understanding the need for a new constitution emanating from our people rather than imposed from outside, (we) reject the suggestion of merely making amendments to the 1969 Statehood Constitution, and stand ready to assist in the preparation of the draft of a new constitution for St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

So, way back in 1978, a broad representation of popular movements was calling for a constitution fashioned by the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, reflecting our experiences, aspirations and vision. We had a golden opportunity to do so, to proceed to independence in unison, to avoid the political bassa-bassa, which soured our march to nationhood, and to take up our mantle as an informed, conscious nation. It is worth noting that the NIC was headed by former Acting Governor-General, the highly respected Henry Williams. And, among those to deliver the Resolution to the Cato Government, was current Acting Chief Justice Adrian Saunders (then President of the National Youth Council) and the present Education Minister Mike Browne, President of the Teachers Union then. Regrettably the narrow bigoted folk in office turned their backs on this democratic process and opted instead for conflict and turmoil.

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