By J. K. Roberts ( Sound Public Policies Advocate)
Dr. Francis Alexis QC., constitutional lawyer and advocate for constitutional reforms with specific interest in the Caribbean Court of Justice, was Grenada’s Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs during the Administration of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Recent ‘alertness and discovery and conclusion’, pertaining to the implied issue, prompted Alexis to release on 22 January 2024 the Public Statement, “Constitution Reform For Grenada At Fifty”. With ‘excitement and optimism and forcefulness’, Alexis who seems to be the ‘legal advisor’ to the now Dickon Mitchell-led NDC-administration, seeks to have “Altering … Grenadian Oath Of Allegiance”, through the ‘power and will’ of the Parliament but without the ‘involvement and endorsement’ of the sovereign constituents, based on judicial reasonings and jurisdiction precedents, as the caption of one of the campaign-articles “Reasoning and precedent advocate change of Oath of Allegiance” holds. Some legal experts including Arley Gill, Ewart Layne, Ruggles Ferguson KC. and Jerry Edwin, although maybe with levels of reservations, is in support of Alexis in racing to ensure that the Reform realizes “in time for 7 Feb 2024, on Grenada at Fifty”.
Key to Dr. Alexis’ campaign on the Issue are subsection 39(2) of the Grenada 1974 Independence Constitution, as well as Appendix 1 and Appendix 3 to the Constitution. Subsection 39(2) states thus : “A Bill to alter this Constitution or the Courts Order or section 3 of the West Indies Associated States (Appeals to Privy Council) Order, 1967, shall not be regarded as being passed by the House of Representatives unless on its final reading in that House the Bill is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the House.” In conjunction with subsection 39(2) is subsection 39(5) which points to those particulars requiring, further to subsection 39(2), that the Bill be “approved on a referendum, held in accordance with such provision as may be made in that behalf by Parliament, by not less than two-thirds of all the votes validly cast on that referendum.” Whilst Appendix 1 specifies the provisions of the Constitution referred to in subsection 39(5), on the surface Appendix 3 is not included directly or indirectly; Appendix 3 contains the Oath of Allegiance whereby certain Government Officials including public officers, swear to ‘Her / His Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her / His Heirs and Successors’. Alexis submits that the swearing, in the Oath of Allegiance should instead be, to ‘Grenada’.
Dr. Alexis has been dismissing as ‘irrelevant and wrong’ certain concerns raised about the ‘process and manner and consequences’ of the proposed Reform, clarifying on the grounds of those provisions of the Constitution which are referendum-entrenched versus those provisions which are not, including the provisions which are perceived to be ‘entrenchment by inflection’ or ‘entrenchment by implication’. In the 03 February 2024 published article “One nation, one future, one allegiance” Alexis addresses within the ‘purposive’ canon of interpretation, the concern about ‘absurdity or inconsistency’ in the application of the provisions, regarding referendum-entrenchment and to which the Oath of Allegiance applies. In further relying on the statutory existences and forms of the Oath of Allegiance to be taken by the High-level State Officials throughout the Eastern Caribbean countries, Alexis in an earlier article on 02 February 2024, “Referendum not needed to change Allegiance”, shows that “By different routes, independence Eastern Caribbean (EC) Constitutions, like all other independence Caribbean Constitutions, ensure that the Form of the Oath of Allegiance (Oath) may be changed without a referendum …. So, each of the 6 (‘six’) independent EC countries has the Oath; in the Constitution in 3 (‘three’), in prescribing legislation in the other 3. The point being emphasised is that, in all those 6 EC countries, as in all other independent Caribbean countries, changing the Oath of Allegiance does not require approval at a referendum.”
It is very unfortunate about the omission, wittingly or not, by Dr. Alexis to elaborate on the corresponding other subsections with subsection 39(2); that is, at least subsection 39(3) and subsection 39(4) under Section 39 of the Constitution which provides for “Alteration of this Constitution and certain other laws”. These two subsections which links to section 48, require that the Bill to alter the Oath of Allegiance as the instance under discussion, be considered also by the Senate. Although the practice is to suspend the Standing Orders of the Houses of Parliament and to pass a Bill in one Sitting, Section 45 of the Constitution, which directs on the “Mode of exercise of legislative power” by the Members of Parliament, must be observed ‘strictly and meaningfully’ in the process for the constitutional change to the Oath.
With the ‘anxiety and haste and expectation’ of Dr. Alexis to have the Bill for changing the Oath of Allegiance lay and pass at the Special Joint Sitting of the Senate and of the House of Representatives on 06 February 2024, the credibility of the Administration is at stake. The past internet-circulated article “Grenadians Must Condemn Parliament Special Sitting For Golden Jubilee“, denounces the short notice for the Sitting as a farce of Democracy, also raising the critical question as to whether or not the proposed Change is genuinely about an urgent issue in the Public Interest versus for egoistic Political Expediency. Whilst the Grenadian-people are ‘sensitive and open’ about ‘sovereignty and nationalism’, the approach on the Issue at this time when the ‘minds and emotions’ are on the Golden Jubilee, is indeed egregious.
The NDC Administration gets a boost to its intention to adopt Alexis’ Submission and to change the Oath of Allegiance with the declaration by Attorney Peter David, as an Opposition Member of the Parliament of the New National Party (NNP) on 05 February 2024, that the NNP “will consider” supporting the Bill for the Oath. Nonetheless; Governor-General Dame Cécile Ellen Fleurette La Grenade, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and Dr. Francis Alexis need to be aware of the imperative to observe ‘thoroughly’ the constitutional provisions for the parliamentary proceedings about the Bill, and the need to anticipate consequences such as constitutional challenges. The Standing Orders of the Parliament should not take precedence over the Constitution; Independence must mean respect for the Rule of Law and the People!