Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Swapping white Queen for non-executive monkey

Published:Sunday | April 24, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Governor General Sir Patrick delivering the Throne Speech in Parliament on April 14.

Recently, Jamaica endured another annual episode of the political sitcom 'Throne Speech', whose purpose is to mock democracy.

The title alone is enough to sicken Jamaican patriots. In 2016, 'independent' since 1962, we're still listening to a Throne Speech; hankering to be Queen's Counsel; and desperate to be mini-England. The Throne Speech made it clear no Jamaican Government intends to abolish our monarchical system of governance.

"But, but ... ," I hear you stammering. "Didn't GG say Government intended to abolish the monarchy?"

No, he didn't. Foreshadowing Government's legislative agenda, he listed the following among bills to be brought to the House: "A Constitution (Amendment) Bill to REPLACE [my emphasis] Her Majesty the Queen with a non-executive president as head of state." DWL! This doesn't abolish the monarchy. There's no intention to alter the way Government works (for example, from a Westminster system to a republican system). This REPLACES (not abolishes) a foreign Queen with a local non-executive President who'll have EXACTLY the same functions as the current GG; cost almost $200 million per year (source: Estimates of Expenditure 2016-17) in exchange for crucial nation-building tasks like cutting ribbons and making appointments on instructions from whichever all-powerful dictator occupies Jamaica House.

Round and round the Mulberry Bush the monkey chased the weasel.

The monkey thought it was all in fun

POP goes the weasel!

This blatant insincerity by a new government that promised transparency is a national disgrace. Watch for it, the PNP won't breathe a word in opposition to this bizarre three-card-trick because the result of the exercise could provide retired political leaders with a soft landing. So, for example, we could soon find Queen Lizzie replaced by Queen Portia (oops, sorry, 'non-executive President' Portia) while Government blows its trumpet regarding its magnanimous, non-partisan approach to appointments.

This is nothing more than a continuation of 'dictatorship-by-consensus' government whose abiding philosophy is 'today for me; tomorrow for me'. Can you imagine what could be possible if King's House lands were used, for example, to provide housing for nurses, police, teachers et al with residential facilities like parks/community centres?

But, what really gets my goat is the obvious throwaway nature of government's lip-service payment to constitutional reform, which I maintain is the most important requirement for growth, prosperity and nation-building. The words 'constitutional reform' don't appear in the Throne Speech. Tucked away towards the end of the speech is that fleeting, devious, nonsensical reference to 'replacing' the Queen.

What exposes that as a brazen political tactic is the equally casual reference to 'impeachment' of public officials - an impossible concept under Westminster. Without comprehensive constitutional reform to include separate, independent voting directly for an executive president/prime minister, for members of parliament AND for senators, any concocted impeachment proceeding will be a monstrous joke.

 

POPULIST PANDERING

 

Under Westminster, where the parliamentary majority selects the prime minister and the prime minister appoints the Senate majority, for what political 'crime' do YOU expect those rigged Houses of Parliament to impeach anybody, except, maybe, an opposition MP? This populist pandering disguised as abolition of the monarchy is truly fifty shades of pusillanimous pretence, political perfidy, diabolical deceit and duplicitous disingenuousness. We'll be swapping white Queen for non-executive monkey.

Yet, under the topic 'Driving the Growth Agenda', this was triumphantly announced:

"The Government will continue to drive the growth ... agenda through:

• Debt management

• Tax reform

• Pension reform

• Financial-sector reform

• Monetary policy

• Implementation of reforms to development applications process

• Implementation of a new special economic zones regime

• Trade facilitation

• Expansion of micro, small and medium enterprise financing and capacity development

• Labour-market reform

• Land-titling initiatives

• Implementation of a strategic plan for the outsourcing industry."

NONE OF THE ABOVE will be possible without constitutional reform. Without strict constitutional debt ceilings made flexible only by events outside political control, proper debt management will always be subject to the political whims and fancies of governments needing to 'run wid' election goodies to remain in office; or oppositions promising the skies to be elected and then giving up imported chocolate heaven to remain popular; or the bailout needs of the politically connected.

Tax reform, pension reform and financial sector reform are pie-in-the-sky dreams as long as governments can pander to the demands of trade unions and public servants without sanction. We'll soon lose the crack of the IMF whip. Replacing IMF dictates with constitutional reform demanding balanced budgets, save for natural disasters or national-security emergencies, is the ONLY WAY to ensure we get REAL tax, pension or financial-sector reform.

Jamaica's financial legislation was overhauled in the 1990s only because of World Bank-IMF insistence after unconscionable flaws in our legal framework and inexcusable incompetence in our regulation of financial institutions were embarrassingly exposed by the financial collapse leading to FINSAC.

It's time to take instruction from our own nation-constituting, people-centric, consultatively built document and not from abroad. Without strict constitutional protections against corruption, the above Throne Speech list is just another fantasy created by excited new government looking at Jamaica through the roseate chimera of a cloud of idealism.

It's easy to spout ad hoc concepts like 'impeachment', 'monarchy' and 'growth' as we've been doing from Whappie kill Phillup since which time 'de pot deh pan de fire, an' it nuh cook yet'. At some point, somebody must get a grip; understand these concepts are inextricably interdependent; and embrace the technique that fits the puzzle pieces together, namely, fundamental constitutional reform.

April 14; GG's Throne Speech:

"Honourable Members, there's an urgent need in Jamaica today to build trust ... . The restoration of trust in Government is a key ingredient in building a partnership for prosperity.

"You all have an obligation to conduct yourselves both inside and outside the House in such a way that it commands the respect of all."

ROFL (wheeze/cough)! I know the GG didn't write this, but merely lip-synced words written for him by Government, which makes this utter hypocrisy all the more laughable. I'll soon explain but, first, it gets better.

GG:

"The first step to building accountable Government is transforming [Government's] efficiency and effectiveness. The restructured and smaller Cabinet sends a strong signal of the intention of the administration to extend and evolve the reform of the governance system."

"Restructured and smaller Cabinet?" Where? Andrew Holness, a prime minister -

(a) with the thinnest majority in Jamaica's parliamentary history;

(b) who can least afford to have MPs away on ministerial duties;

(c) who scoffed at Portia's 20-member Cabinet plus four junior ministers (from 43 MPs/13 senators; 43%)

- initially appointed an EIGHTEEN-MEMBER CABINET (from only 31 MPs/13 senators; 47.7%) with three state ministers and has the colossal gall to boast that it's "smaller." C'mon, man!

Then, to add insult to hyperbole, while the GG trumpets this "achievement" and exhorts MPs regarding their conduct, the PM succeeds in appointing 50 per cent of MPs/senators by adding to the mix the most disrespectful of JLP MPs whose misconduct reaches folklore status. Worse, he does so under a cloud of utmost secrecy, so much so that his own information minister was unaware of the appointment. This newly anointed state minister has:

• Assaulted a female news photographer trying to take his photo at JLP headquarters;

• Flipped the bird to journalists;

• Told a CVM TV anchor to "go to hell" when asked a question;

• Repeatedly called a female parliamentary colleague "Jezebel";

• Called a former contractor general, appointed by a Parliament of which he was a member, "an overzealous idiot".

This is how Government leads by example in responding to the GG's call: "You all have an obligation to conduct yourselves, both inside and outside the House, in such a way that it commands the respect of all?"

Who next will use a Westminster system, unable:

• To exclude OPM from the Cabinet;

• To limit the number of ministries/state ministers or to prescribe permanent ministry names;

• To light a candle, sing a Sankey and find his/her way into the 'smaller and restructured' executive?

How many more times will we put up with the following?

Audley Shaw, at February 21 mass rally: "As minister of finance, one of the first things I will order is the $15 million to complete the FINSAC report," (loud cheers from Labourites). Where are these funds in the 2016-17 estimates? Definitely NOT in any justice ministry line item. What's Jamaica's remedy?

God help us all!

Peace and love.

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