CaribWorldNews, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 20, 2009: Vincentian nationals braved inclement weather this past weekend to participate in a spirited discussion on the proposed new constitution for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The occasion was a forum presented by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Progressive Organization of New York (SPOONY), and hosted by the Friends of Crown Heights of Prospect Place, Brooklyn, New York on Saturday, November 14, 2009. The referendum is set for a vote on November 25, 2009.
The forum was envisaged and presented as a timely opportunity for members of the New York based Vincentian community to express and discuss their views on the proposed constitution and the upcoming referendum. The format featured a guest presentation, followed by a panel discussion, questions and comments from members of the audience.
The organizers invited four presenters each from the supporters of the `yes` vote being promoted by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, and proponents of a `no` vote, led by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). Two from the `yes` side declined the invitation. A third did not show up. Only Dr. Maxwell Haywood, a national of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and a senior official with the UN Secretariat in New York, turned up from `yes` vote invitees. All four of the `no` vote proponents, Dr. Linton Lewis, who travelled to New York specially for the event, Messrs. Kingsley C.A. Layne and Dennie M. Wilson, former Ambassador to the US and Permanent Representative to the UN respectively, and Claude Leach, a teacher and lawyer, were in attendance.
The panelists each gave five minute presentations, beginning with Dr. Maxwell Haywood, who emphasized the importance of the constitution review exercise and the unique opportunity it provided to complete a defining and historic journey through the collective experience of slavery, exploitation, and colonialism, to full political independence and psychological emancipation. He expressed disappointment that the discussion had become a debate along political lines, and called for assurance from the NDP that should the `no` vote succeed in the November 25 referendum, they will not abandon the constitution review project but continue to engage the people in focused public discussion, with a view of producing a primary document of which all Vincentians can be justly proud.
Ambassador Dennie Wilson spoke of the traditional disinterest of successive Labour Party administrations in the development of the Grenadines. The former Speaker of the House of Assembly in a Labour controlled parliament emphasized that SVG is a unitary state, that ` SVG is, not SVG are!` He deplored the imposition of a surcharge by the ULP regime on travel to and from the Grenadines. Ambassador Wilson declared that this was a highly discriminatory act against the people of the islands. He also spoke about the blatant and exclusive use of public money to promote the `yes` vote at a time of national financial crisis. The UN Permanent Representative, who hails from Union Island in the Grenadines, called for a resounding ` NO` to the proposed constitution.
Ambassador K.C.A Layne told the gathering that he could not promise them to be apolitical in such a matter as the creation of the primary legal document providing the framework for political activity in the country. Ambassador Layne said that in spite of greatly diminished public respect for the vocation, in his opinion, politics still provided the greatest opportunity to really contribute to the equitable and harmonious development of the country in the interest of all the people. He stated that any attempt to interfere with the free, fair and transparent conduct of the exercise is a crime against generations of Vincentians, from colonization, slavery, through emancipation, the attainment of universal adult suffrage in 1951, and full political independence in 1979.
Claude Leach, a former manager of the Development Corporation and a native of Bequia, did not sit on the panel, in view of the non-appearance of three invited speakers representing the `yes` vote group. He, however, spoke briefly during the discussion period, and drew attention to the issue of neglect and cynicism of the ULP government towards the people of the Grenadines, a point earlier expounded by Ambassador Wilson in his presentation.
When the discussion was opened for audience participation the panelists had to deal with some straight, honest, and incisive questions and comments that focused on accountability, transparency, and good governance given the current dismal state-of-affairs in SVG and whether the NDP has an alternative constitution like the Republican alternative health plan in the US Congress? And why should naturalized Vincentians with US citizenship be disqualified from election to parliament in their native land, and their US born progeny not?