Fri | Sep 22, 2023

Gordon Robinson | Jamaica republic should be for the public

Published:Sunday | May 21, 2023 | 1:21 AM
A section of people at the National Stadium celebrating Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee Grand Gala celebrations.
A section of people at the National Stadium celebrating Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee Grand Gala celebrations.

So Government’s dog and pony show (a.k.a. Constitutional Reform) is now in full swing.

Or, more fittingly, full see-saw. Because fundamental flaws in the process are so contrary that every rise in the tide lifts only some boats while sinking others. Recent town-hall “consultations” have been entertaining but ineffective because the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) faces two devastating obstacles. The first is embedded in 60 years of governments under-educating Jamaicans generally and specifically offering zero education in civics.

But, the current Government knows where it wants to go so has reacted to public pressure for citizen involvement by bulldozing its way through sham “consultations” where the majority can’t grasp the issues. Then it solemnly receives “presentations” from the educated elite who understand but are electorally easy to ignore. For “consultations” to be effective those “consulted” must know and understand the various systems of governance.

We the People are crying out for education. An audience member at a MoBay “consultation” asked Chairperson-Minister Marlene (whose method has been more talking; less listening) what was a Ceremonial President’s job. Her reply sounded like a Looney Tunes episode starring Elmer Fudd and closing with Porky Pig’s usual out-of-time excuse “that’s all folks”.

From her first day as Constitutional Affairs Minister, her responsibility should’ve been to implement island wide public education in governance structures. Had she done that, CRC’s “consultations” would have purpose. I guarantee you, had marketing guru Chris Tufton been named Constitutional Affairs Minister, he would’ve known what to do and how to do it.

So, now, only one option is put to citizens “by consensus” as the road to “Republic” but which, in reality, is pussyfooting around a Mulberry Bush to arrive at an ingested and regurgitated Monarchy. Then we’re “consulted”?

Give me a flipping break!

How many know what the word “Republic” really means? D’ya think the fact that “public” comes after “re” means anything? Or can a “Republic” be created by simply removing King Charles and replacing him with a Jamaican “Head of State” appointed by political parties without consulting the public?

The etymology (origin) of the word Republic is “of the people” (from the Latin res publicus to respublica then through the French republique and absorbed into mid-16th century English as “republic”). It means one thing namely Government by the people for the people. The only way to achieve THAT is to ensure every political leader is directly elected and subject to recall elections or, if part of Executive Government, impeachment.

THAT’s what “by the people” means. THAT’s how you make Government govern “for the people.” Without these fundamental elements, what you have is NOT a Republic.

All this nonsense about choice between “parliamentary” republic and “presidential” republic is smoke and mirrors. Wikipedia tells us “parliamentary republics” have leaders whose authority comes from and accountability is to the legislature.

Horse. Radish!

When did the legislature appoint President/PM or was he/she already selected by 3,000 odd party delegates? How is cabinet accountable to a legislature dominated by cabinet members? How is legislature accountable to the people other than twice per decade at unelected PM’s whim?

How is THAT government by the people for the people and not Monarchies masquerading as Republics?

Once we understand power in real Republics resides in the people not the legislature we can’t be bamboozled by putrid propaganda to continuing this anti-democratic concentration of power in the hands of a King, re-invented as PM, who appoints a Jamaican “Head of State” camouflaged as President.

Unless your President is directly elected by and accountable to we the people via our parliamentary representatives (oversight; impeachment); unless your parliamentarians (MPs/Senators) are directly elected to represent you as government overseers instead of representing political parties AND are subject to being fired by you (recall elections); you’ve swapped pot for kettle; live in an Autocracy; and have changed nothing.

But we’ve all “graduated” from primary school; many from secondary school; some from Universities; without spending a single minute considering these governance issues. So we are vulnerable to weapons of mass distraction that tell us we must be ruled by a PM who is all things to all people and upon whose benevolence we must rely.

So CRC is appointed in the context of a nation under-prepared to participate fully in the process and a Government relishing that reality because it greases the passage for its premeditated plan for face-card reform to be rushed through as “consensus”. CRC is handed a basket to carry water while Government and Opposition talks “reform” but ensures repeat.

Take these chains from my heart and set me free.

You’ve grown cold and no longer care for me.

All my faith in you is gone but the heartaches linger on.

Take these chains from my heart and set me free

We’ve been mentally enslaved by JLP/PNP for 60 years. Time come to break the chains; remove the blinkers; and compel real change.

The second fundamental flaw in this sham process is the constitution (no pun intended) of the CRC itself which clumsily exposes its true purpose. Why is CRC’s appointment limited to the current parliamentary term?

If you look closely at the appointments’ generics (I’ve no objection to any individual appointment) you’ll count FIVE parliamentarians and the Attorney-General. So 45 per cent of CRC, including the constitutionally created Government legal advisor (should be advising Government on CRC’s constitutional change recommendations) has umbilical connection to the parliamentary term and “qualification” for membership that will soon expire.

WHY would a Government do this if it wanted serious, detailed, consideration of requirements for Jamaica to become a real Republic (ostensibly a “Phase One” objective)? Surely such an objective begins with public education; then public consultation (to include public hearings to receive presentations by civic groups and individuals); followed by CRC review and recommendation; executive approval; legislative process including parliamentary consideration by joint select committee and debate?

For such a Committee to properly oversee and manage these crucial processes, members should be appointed by the Governor General so their term can straddle any election. But, if membership significantly depends on election results, what the granny gungus natty is it all about?

What happens to Senators on CRC whose term would automatically end. Would the next PM/LOO be forced to re-appoint them to the Senate? Would that circumstance itself raise constitutional issues?

Now isn’t it obvious the intent, from Day One, has been to ram already decided fake “constitutional reform” down our throats before the next election? After election, what happens to Phases 2 and 3 which THIS Committee was formed to oversee? Will CRC be re-constituted (ouch!) dependent on who wins?

We must ask ourselves if the evidence before us reveals a real intention on the part of government or Opposition for reform or are we simply swapping White King for Black King while keeping all White King’s trappings including his Court and his monarchical Westminster governance?

Take these tears from my eyes and let me see

just a spark of the love that used to be.

If you love somebody new let me find a new love too.

Take these chains from my heart and set me free!

Take These Chains From My Heart was written by Fred Rose/Hy Heath and recorded by Fred’s discovery and protégé, Hank Williams, in 1953, as part of Hank’s last recording for Fred before they parted ways. The song was inspired by the falling apart of Hank’s tumultuous marriage to Audrey Sheppard; was released after Hank’s death; and reached Number One on the Country charts. In 1963, Ray Charles’ cover of the song for his seminal country music double album rose to #8 in USA.

So, despite an expressed intention for “reform”, Government continues to keep chains on our minds and shields over our eyes with a system that browbeats civil servants into phantom wage increases masquerading as “public sector compensation restructuring” then grants politicians massive salary increases by a shadowy process.

Competitive salaries for political leaders should be a non-contentious issue. But, in the context of opaque origin they’ll be contentious. In the context of a stubborn persistent refusal to honour a promise of job descriptions for MPs they’ll be contentious. How do we the people assess the value for our money if we don’t know what the jobs entail? What did whoever recommended these increases use to measure that value? In the context of a continued absence of constitutional limits on cabinet size, these salary increases will be contentious. In the absence of reform of the whimsical way Ministers are appointed, these salary increases will be contentious.

So we MUST insist Jamaica is governed by us for us with transparency and accountability. We MUST insist Jamaica’s Republic is re the public!

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com