Tue | Sep 19, 2017

The Gavel: CCJ and your duty to vote

Published:Tuesday | October 20, 2015 | 10:00 AMDaraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Knight

K.D. Knight put it succinctly when he used the phrase "that is what democracy is about".

The people vote for a Government, and that Government is empowered to take decisions in the best interest of the people.

Parliament, as Knight explained, is that body to which the people delegate responsibility to act on their behalf. The reason for this delegation is simple - all 2.7 million of us cannot at once make decisions and pass laws for the good governance of Jamaica.

The Constitution also points out those areas which Parliament, though the representative of the people, is empowered to deal with and those areas that require direct people action. One of those areas that the people have left up to Parliament is that of taxation and running the affairs of the country.

Thus, each year, the Parliament votes to impose taxes on the people in order to fund the Budget. And as far-reaching as taxation is, there is no requirement for the people to vote for or against various tax measures in a referendum.

Similarly, there is no requirement for Parliament to put the matter of Jamaica's final court to a referendum. A two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament can vote to have Jamaica sign on to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its appellate jurisdiction. A similar two-thirds majority can vote to abolish the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal.

The opposition, though saying it is in favour of leaving the Privy Council, argues Jamaica should wait until it can set up its own final court of appeal. But the country may not be able to achieve that anytime soon. Yet, there is a call for a referendum on whether the country should leave the Privy Council, notwithstanding the fact that Britain can, any day, get up and kick Jamaica from the Privy Council.

It is their court, and Jamaica has no control over the decisions of the country.

So, as Knight pointed out, if Jamaicans, through a referendum, were to say stay with the Privy Council, we could be left without a third-tier court system.

With no legal arguments to support a referendum, those who continue to call for one on the CCJ matter seem not to realise there are consequences for losing an election.

The way our democracy works is simple. People, having attained the age of 18, register with the electoral authorities and, at various intervals, cast ballots for either a member of parliament or councillor.

 

pure or ill-intent

People with interest in leadership - with either pure or ill-intent - organise themselves into political parties, embrace varying governance philosophies and offer themselves for office. At election time, they pound pavements, cross rivers, climb mountains, have motorcades and mass meetings, as well as publish manifestos, all in an attempt to get the vote.

In our system, the person who gets the majority is elected, and the political party with the majority of MPs forms the Government and is obliged to implement the policies and programmes promised in the electoral campaign.

It is a fact that the People's National Party (PNP), in its 2011 manifesto, promised to make the CCJ Jamaica's final appellate court. The party promised to revive "the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a regional institution for effective, functional and foreign policy co-operation with renewed emphasis on the CCJ and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME)".

It is also a fact that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), at least in its manifesto, was silent on the matter, even though its opposition to the regional court is well known.

It is also a fact that the people, by a 2:1 margin, voted for the PNP to form the Government. In so doing, the people delegated lawmaking functions, such as abolishing appeals to the Privy Council, to the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration.

 

alliance

Going back to them to ask about a matter on which they have already spoken is illogical.

There are some who would argue that withdrawing from the Privy Council and going instead to the CCJ is too fundamental, and, therefore, the people must speak through a referendum. This argument, however, was not existent in 2010 when the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom was passed by the Parliament alone. The Government of the day had 32 MPs to the Opposition's 28.

Unlike then, the argument has been put forward that only 53 per cent of the electorate voted, and despite the PNP winning 42 of the 63 seats in the House, a significant portion of the population stayed away.

But whose fault is that?

In a democracy, the ones who do not vote allow those who vote to choose for them.

There is also no rule that states that the electorate must vote either PNP or JLP. If people are disappointed with the current parties, they can vote for independent or third-party candidates or even organise themselves into a 'time-for-a-change alliance' and set out to woo all non-voters.

Aside from a few constituencies such as South East and South West St Elizabeth, the vast majority of the people on the voters' list - nearly 70 per cent - did not sit back and allow other people to decide their fate. They voted.

It is high time all Jamaicans recognise that the vote has a direct implication on public policy.

These three CCJ bills again illustrate why it is important for people to get involved in the political process. There are consequences for allowing others to make the decision on your behalf. I am very much aware that many persons choose not to vote because they can't bring themselves to accept that their ballot will not be weighed because of their perceived social class, but rather will be counted and is no more important that the vote of the other man they wish not to be equated to.

Many who stay away underestimate the intelligence of those who vote, preferring instead to scorn them and seek to engage the process only by social media. This should be a wake-up call.

Not only should the people understand the power of the vote, but the Parliament, too, should recognise that the will of the people is reflected in the House of Representatives. The Senate, at all times, should take its cue from the House.

In fact, I have a fundamental problem with the Senate voting down bills passed by the people's representatives.

That chamber should exist only to review bills and seek to influence policy through debates on motions. This role can change when we begin electing senators, a day I hope is not too far away.

Send feedback to daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com