Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Who is Jamaican enough?

Published:Monday | October 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM

We understand the English language. We speak it somewhat. We are an island nation living in the underarm of the Americas. For as long as we have known ourselves, our people have been coming and going to other countries seeking work, the opportunity to study, generally to better themselves, given the real and perceived limitations of our island's economy and society.

Except for some, going has not meant shaking the Jamaican dust off their feet. Jamaican distinctiveness - of mannerism, speech, faith and taste - have most often been retained as emblems of identity in 'foreign'; often passed on to generations.

Years ago, as a student in England, I marvelled at the fact that Jamaicans were involved in every imaginable type of industry serving their immigrant community except one: at the time there were no Jamaican morticians. The reasoning was that would be little custom, for most everyone had the mind of an exile and harboured thoughts of returning to the Rock.

Surely over time, aspirations have changed, new citizenships acquired but loyalties perdure. In this truly global reality, all of us have overseas connections, Jamaicans repatriate a lifeline of billions in foreign exchange each year, and 'Trumpism' and other kinds of nativism notwithstanding, the lines at the foreign embassies and high commissions will continue to be lengthy.

Let us accept the fact that migration will be a continuing feature of our society and that taking a foreign nationality is not necessarily nor ordinarily an act of disqualifying disloyalty to Jamaica.

Please do not let us find ourselves in the same self-destructive predicament as has happened last week in Australia where, in a nation of nearly half-recent immigrants, an outdated law preventing even those who unknowingly have inherited another nationality has ambushed an entire government.

Jamaica needs a wealth of native talent to guide and fuel equitable and swift development. People who have lived abroad often avoid the excesses of tribalism and narrowness in which we wallow.

Many of our citizens who would be well qualified to offer excellent public service go abroad, now mostly to North America, but still some to the United Kingdom to study, work and create wealth. While there, many are likely to acquire citizenship to secure social security benefits, for the sake of affording education or for the advantage of their children. Doing so should not, by that act only, be a source of alienation, of diminishing an important right of a Jamaican citizen, that of seeking to represent his or her countrymen.




Of course, the fear is of the journeyman who could set policy in Jamaica and fly off to his other country and never bear the brunt of the hardship he has helped impose. Then there are those who imagine the dual-citizen MP conflict of interest if conflict were to 'bruk out' between his two states.

While there are those who would attach some legitimacy to such and other concerns, by far the greater good to be grasped would be to widen the catchment of citizens eligible to serve.

When the Jamaican Constitution was being crafted almost three generations ago, the framers were conservatively anxious to define a matrix of governance which resembled the Westminster model to which we were accustomed.

Times have changed now, and being a citizen of any part of Queen Victoria's now-defunct empire, upon which the sun never set, cannot, after a mere year of residence, qualify to govern us while a bona fide Jamerican is excluded as some kind of conflicted stranger.

So let us change the Constitution to read that qualification for Parliament requires someone to be a Jamaican citizen, arguably with a residence requirement, and then, I respectfully follow Bruce Golding: Let the voters decide who they think will make good laws and represent them adequately.

They can best determine who is Jamaican enough to qualify.

Also, since it is clear that there must be a continuing and increasing partnership with Jamaican citizens living abroad to achieve the highest development goals, it is both moral and practical that in a general scheme of constitutional reform, three seats in an expanded Senate should be reserved for them.

Where would the two major political parties stand in relation to the proposals sketched here? Once again, the habits, movements and sentiments of ordinary Jamaicans are probably ahead of the political class.

To leave these matters as they are will be akin to cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to