Congratulations to the people of Antigua and Barbuda on hosting our first ever referendum on November
We also extend our congratulations to everyone who worked tirelessly behind the scene.
The people have spoken and their voice, or as our Prime Minister says “the voice of God” must be heard and respected.
As such, we are gravely concerned about discussions in some quarters, less than a week after the referendum, to find ways to scheme around the will of the people or to dilute the power of the people as safeguarded in our Constitution.
Would we truly be any better than our former colonial masters if our own leaders simply trample the will of the people?
We were also quite alarmed at the vitriol which was allowed to be aired on state media as we awaited the referendum results.
This type of antagonistic and inflammatory rhetoric, simply and unnecessarily further divides our people, and does nothing to advance the goal of reform.
We take this time to express our disappointment at the low voter turnout on such an important matter. We were however not entirely surprised as it ties into our raised concerns about the insufficient public education and the limited and apparently hurried timeframe in which this referendum was conducted.
The need for sustained public education is evident and we remain committed to assisting in this regard, and look forward to partnering with our government to this end.
We were dismayed to hear Prime Minster Browne’s statement immediately after the results of the referendum indicating that his administration would no longer be pursuing constitutional reform or another referendum in the near future.
This position is in direct contradiction to the voluntary, written commitment which the Prime Minister had given to pursuing wider constitutional reform.
We urge our Prime Minister to not just give up at the first stumbling block, but to instead start now to put in the necessary groundwork:
- Sustained Education
The three-month election campaign model has proven to be inadequate.
We call on the governments of the Caribbean and the governments of all of the Eastern Caribbean states in particular to invite the region’s most successful institution, the University of the West Indies, to assist them in devising an appropriate public education campaign that will win favour with the people in the region as a whole.
If state media is to be a credible part of that campaign then the unprofessional and imbalanced programming which featured prominently in the referendum campaign cannot be repeated.
- Improvements in the Court System
Over three weeks ago we called on Prime Minister Gaston Browne to take the lead in encouraging the Heads of Government of the OECS to commit to the creation of a Trust Fund for the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
We are heartened that the OECS Heads of Government have now agreed in principle that such a Trust Fund should be created.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is a regional institution that pre-dates both CARICOM and the CCJ.
Anyone committed to regionalism must and should see the protection and independence of that court as a priority as it would help in removing a suspicion or fear unfortunately held in some quarters, that the Court is beholden to politicians.
In Antigua and Barbuda in particular, there is an urgent need to address the appalling physical conditions in the Lower Courts, and the Prison, as well as to provide adequate resources to the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda for the timely and efficient conclusion of police investigations.
While we did not receive any funds from the National Coordinating Committee prior to the referendum, we hope that with our Prime Minister subsequently admitting that public education must continue, that the funds which we had requested will be made available so that we can get on with the business of educating our people.
We thank all of those persons who voted NO in the referendum especially the people of Barbuda who despite the challenges and deprivations, participated in this important democratic exercise.
May the Almighty God continue to bless this nation.