Last week’s two referenda on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada, produced instructive results when it comes to the practice of politics in the Caribbean, while at the same time exposing a level of wilful ignorance by opinion leaders in both countries.
It is more than an aside that these two Caricom states are run by recently-elected political administrations that only seven months ago received overwhelming majorities at general elections. In Grenada, on March 13, there was a 15-0 clean sweep and in Antigua & Barbuda, there was a 15-2 result on March 21. So, yes, it might be that the referenda overrode partisan desire for they both failed, but we all recognised the furtive agendas and ensuing voter apathy.
It would also not be a stretch to contend that public displays of unfamiliarity with the workings of the court by the leading elites were both wilful and strategic. For, I do not agree that there was a shortage of facts and information.
Fact 1: The CCJ is already a functioning court within the legal systems of 12 Caricom countries, including T&T, at the level of disputes related to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Fact 2: Inefficiencies in the adjudicating of criminal and civil matters appear to have almost nothing to do with who constitutes your final court of appeal. If it did, and based on this we wanted to fix things, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) would have had to be dumped for that very reason.
Fact 3: There has been no absence of bite-sized information for general consumption on the design and role of the CCJ. I feel for those who for the past 20 years have been involved in designing and delivering material on this subject. I feel for the content providers who have tried everything from songs and posters and factoids and newspaper supplements and bumper
Opinion (mine): The referenda in Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda owe much to the insertion of partisan politics in a matter that actually required a high level of multi-sectoral management and execution. These exercises ought to have been the product of a widely-collaborative process in the deliberate, limited presence of politicians. This is despite the fact that a decision on the CCJ is a supreme act of politics—not the silly ethnic or territorial head-count I have heard in T&T and elsewhere, but real politics that has to do with shifts in the balance of real power.
“Not yet” in Antigua & Barbuda was just as much an opposition concoction as were observations about the quality of the constitutional amendment in Grenada. Look at the partisan responses following the vote and you will see who is crowing and who is not.
Additionally, the threat by Prime Minister Browne in Antigua to call out the ABLP troops to bolster support was a tactical error and provided license to further engage the process at a partisan level.
In the end, not only did the Government supporters not turn out, but neither did 67% of the electorate. This must also be concerning to the UPP. The Opposition ignores this statistic at its peril, especially if it did indeed conduct a surreptitious campaign on the issue.
The same applies in the case of Grenada where the turnout of 28 per cent was even worse than Antigua & Barbuda’s 33.5 per cent. Don’t forget, the electorate in Grenada had rejected a highly-problematic CCJ vote in 2016. This time, the campaign there took a decided turn for the worst at the very end when, under the guidance of the NDC, drafting issues related to the
constitutional amendment became a major sticking point.
The voter turnout in March was 73.65 per cent! Though the NDC did not win a single seat, it had attracted over 23,000 supporters in March—40 per cent of the popular vote. At the referendum, just about half of those supporters came out—albeit to register a simple majority in the voting.
So, the sifting and sorting of data needs to commence in earnest to help re-design the politics not only of the CCJ but of Caricom as a whole. The CCJ president has assured all concerned that the court will continue to serve the region with distinction.
On the evidence, this has never been in question. What seems clear is that the Caricom process needs to be dislodged from the under-developed, tribal claws of party politics. For this, we’d need a whole lot of luck.