Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Editorial | Ja, too, should repatriate symbols of sovereignty

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2020 | 6:36 AM

 

Mia Mottley’s commitment to within 14 months repatriate Barbados’ greatest symbol of sovereignty, by removing Queen Elizabeth as the eastern Caribbean island’s head of state, will hopefully prove a catalyst for faster action on the matter in Jamaica, for which there is already political consensus.

In this regard, Prime Minister Andrew Holness would cause an urgent review of the long list of issues on his constitutional/governance reform agenda to determine what is politically achievable in the near term, including those on which there may be as yet no agreement, but on which the parliamentary opposition and civil society groups may be persuaded to a common cause.

This exercise, should Mr Holness be serious about getting something done, will also require the prime minister abandoning his plan for a so-called “grand referendum”, in which a big bundle of issues are intended to be put to the Jamaican people. That proposal, as this newspaper previously warned, is overly complex, unwieldy and politically fraught.

The nine independent countries of the Caribbean – Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines – that retain the Queen as their head of state represent the largest bloc of countries to still do so. This is the case 37 years after the last of them, St Kitts and Nevis, gained its independence from Britain. In the throne speech last week setting out the agenda of Ms Mottley’s government for a new session of parliament, the governor general, Dame Sandra Mason, invoked Barbados’ independence prime minister, Errol Barrow, and his caution against “loitering on colonial premises”.

LEAVE COLONIAL PAST

“That warning is as relevant today as it was in 1966,” the governor general said. “Having attained Independence over half a century ago, our country can be in no doubt about its capacity for self-governance. The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind.”

It is in this context that she promised, on behalf of the government, that Barbados would become a republic “by the time we celebrate our 55th Anniversary of Independence”, which will be November 30 next year. There is little doubt that there is political consensus on the question in Barbados, or that Ms Mottley’s Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is in a position to deliver on the commitment..

First, Errol Barrow, whose spirit Dame Sandra invoked last week, founded the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which, though not now in parliament, still has significant support in the country. Indeed, as recently as 2015, Freundel Stuart, the party’s leader and prime minister until the DLP’s defeat in the 2018 election, committed his administration to following through on the recommendations of a constitutional reform commission. Country’s economic crisis, and then elections, perhaps intervened.

Ms Mottley, unlike what would be the case in Jamaica, won’t need the imprimatur of a referendum to amend Section 63 (2) of the constitution, which vests “the executive authority of Barbados … in Her Majesty”. Having won all 30 parliamentary seats in the 2018 election – one member subsequently resigned to form the token opposition – she has more than the two-thirds majority required in the House to carry the vote.

With her control of 12 of the 21 seats in the Senate, she would need only two of the other nine members (seven independents appointed by the governor general and two by the leader of the opposition) to vote with the BLP members, if that is presumed a requirement of the constitution. Neither does Barbados’ constitution require bills amending even entrenched clauses to lay on the table of parliament for lengthy periods between tabling, debate and passage.

REFERENDUM

While Jamaica’s move to being a republic would require confirmation via a referendum, it is a matter on which there has been an agreement for more than 40 years. Indeed, early differences between Mr Holness’ Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on whether there should be an executive or non-executive presidency – the PNP compromised in favour of the former – have long been resolved. So, astutely handled, a referendum, confined solely to this issue, need not be politically divisive or socially or economically disruptive.

Mr Holness could, and should, prime this process, and start the effort towards the continued repatriation of Jamaica’s sovereignty by having the island accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) – a court of the region’s making with good insulation and high-quality jurisprudence – rather than having to seek justice in a final court via “the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council”. That, on the face of it, is conceptually offensive.

Moreover, the gain wouldn’t only be symbolic, but practical. It would improve the access of Jamaicans to the final court. It is long past time, as Mr Barrow advised more than half a century ago, that Caribbean people generally, and especially proud Jamaicans, to be loitering on colonial premises.