Gordon Robinson | If Jamaica is to change …
For more than 10 years I’ve used these columns to press for radical constitutional change.
I’ve made it clear that I believe Jamaica is doomed unless we radically reconstruct our country to give it a chance for success. My premise begins in 1960 when, in preparing for Independence, we fell prey to centuries of brainwashing and accepted, with minor adjustments, a Constitution foisted on us by our colonial masters (previously our slave masters) that simply copied and imported Westminster to Jamaica.
In so doing, we failed to take into account that our history and traditions were very different to Britain’s.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
We were slaves for 400 years. Even before that, slavery was prevalent in Africa for many centuries. It’s no longer politically correct to recall this historical reality, but it explains how readily we assisted British slavers to capture and deliver our people to the waiting slave ships. After ‘Emancipation’, colonisation and mental slavery continued. Finally, when it became too expensive to maintain the British empire, we were granted ‘Independence’ but every stratagem, trick or mind-control tool was used to keep us under the British thumb. Britain was determined our mental slavery would never end.
We joined a political cult controlled by Britain and incongruously named ‘the Commonwealth’ despite the least common thread connecting members being wealth. We were ‘persuaded’ to adopt the Westminster system of governance despite the absence in Jamaica of every single fundamental driving Westminster’s success in Britain.
We were fooled into keeping the Privy Council as boss of our legal system (temporarily, of course, until we could find a replacement; lol). Then we were bamboozled into adopting a British system of education where ‘public schools’ targeted sons (daughters didn’t count) of the elite for indoctrination (in all-male boarding establishments) in classism; passing standardised exams; and maintaining the status quo.
So, our tiny nation, with its people’s history of tribalism and oppression, tried to copy Britain’s elitist model. But Jamaicans’ history militated against a mindset of national unity. So, we expected automatic honour and dignity from political leaders that existed in Britain only in story books; respect among citizens; mutual respect between citizens and law enforcement; low crime rates; high exam passes; and a flourishing economy.
Instead, we’ve achieved massive corruption in public life, an embarrassingly undereducated population, frightening crime rates, a crooked and disrespected JCF, and a perpetually stagnant economy. Either we embrace fundamental change or check ourselves into Bellevue.
Because we try to be British:
Once every five years, we line up in excited gratitude for the privilege of voting only for a constituency representative. Because this is our sole electoral choice, we’ve developed the practice of voting for the party we want in government, no matter who it offers as MP.
This insane habit has divested many of us of our vote. For example, in 2016, my choice was between Julian Robinson, the best MP I ever experienced, or whoever the JLP offered. I couldn’t vote for Julian because, in our cockeyed system, that’s a vote for Portia, and I certainly wasn’t voting against Julian. So, essentially, my vote was taken from me.
Thirty-odd MPs from whichever party secures most seats gather and select Jamaica’s prime minister without a single member of the electorate having voted for him/her as PM. Don’t tell me crap about parties announcing in advance who their leaders are. In 1967, Jamaica elected the JLP with Busta as leader. Busta immediately resigned and we got Sangster, followed by Shearer.
In 2007, we again elected the JLP under Bruce Golding but ended up with Andrew Holness. Whenever a PM is unavailable, he/she appoints one of a motley crew to act as PM without consulting us. We need a constitutionally entrenched path of succession so that, when we vote for a PM, we also know who we’ll be getting in his/her absence.
Once the PM is sworn in, he/she, on political whim, makes every important governance decision, including appointing a Senate majority, the entire Cabinet, and boards of statutory agencies.
I’ve said before. I repeat: This isn’t democracy. It’s totalitarianism!
Jamaica must begin a conversation focused on constitutional change as the sine qua non to everything else. My initial contribution to that conversation:
We must abolish this totalitarian governance system. A directly elected PM should nominate a Cabinet from outside Parliament to be vetted by parliamentary committees in public hearings. No unelected person should enter Parliament. MPs should reside in the constituencies they represent.
The Constitution should specify no more than 12 ministries that can only be changed by a two-thirds majority in both Houses and a limited number of state ministers. The appointment of ministers ‘without portfolio’ should be expressly made unconstitutional. The proliferation of statutory authorities should be reduced and their board appointments subject to parliamentary approval. The civil service’s role should be strengthened and statutory authorities’ employees classified as ‘public officers’. Government borrowing (liberally defined) should be limited to 90 per cent of GDP subject to increase only by two-thirds majority of both Houses. No new tax or tax increase should be permissible by ministerial order.
Abolish the Queen and governor general. King’s House lands should be transferred to the NHT for the construction of housing for teachers, nurses and rank-and-file police.
Abolish local government. Increase Parliament to more than 200 MPs and reduce constituency sizes. Currently, ‘local government’ is a thinly veiled facilitator of political corruption avoiding parliamentary accountability. ‘Local government’ plus central government’s ‘local government ministry’ = incongruity squared. As Fenton Ferguson once famously trumpeted, “All politics is local!”
It’s impossible to tell which is worse - a local government ministry or the current dispensation called ‘Ministry of Justice’? Any Ministry of Justice, properly so called, should be led by the attorney general, merged with a national security ministry, and focused on protecting citizens against crime (natsec) and governmental excess (justice) and advising Government on constitutional limits to its authority.
The judiciary has no business having any connection with the executive save to negotiate like every public service for an annual Budget to be administered by the Office of the Chief Justice. Why is Chuck bleating on about a “paperless system”? Doesn’t he believe the CJ sees that need and can deal with it as required?
For God’s sake, grow a pair of balls, pretend to believe Jamaica can dispense justice to Jamaicans, abolish the Privy Council. As a ‘temporary measure’, CCJ is obviously more compatible to Jamaica than the Privy Council, BUT the ultimate goal must be to create Jamaica’s own final court. We have the judicial talent. We have the administrative skills. It’s time to stop playing politics with the judiciary.
Without a free and independent media, corruption is guaranteed.
In 2011, disingenuous MPs tricked and bullied a timid, subservient media into accepting that its push for the inclusion of ‘freedom of the press’ in the new Charter of Rights was satisfied by ‘freedom of expression’.
Don’t make me barf!
Media then inhaled the fumes from Government’s smoke-and-mirrors scheme (aka Access to Information Act), which only ensured access to a bureaucratic phalanx that delays, restricts and prevents media’s access to public information. After running that weeks-long gauntlet, media suffer a further agonising process of appeals, ending in a court case that could last years. Access, schmaccess!
Freedom of expression only allows self-expression. It doesn’t allow for unrestricted access to facts required to expose corruption or to corrupt politicians nor does it protect against expensive libel suits. Freedom of expression allows you to speak at your peril. Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press assures two currently non-existing fundamentals that no politician wants conceived much less carried to full term:
Unrestricted access to public information without delay except for whatever the Constitution might except on national-security grounds;
The ability to publish reports regarding public officials without fear of libel unless the claimant can prove express malice.
For example, there are Petroscam details I’d love to publish but I dare not because truth would be The Gleaner’s only defence to a libel suit, and I can’t prove the details without revealing my source(s) [something that’ll never happen inside or outside court]. If there were a constitutional right to freedom of the press, litigious public officials would have to prove my story untrue AND that The Gleaner acted maliciously.
I believe my non-exhaustive menu of new constitutional measures would put the brakes on the untrammelled abuse of power Jamaica now endures daily without respite or hope of remedy. Others will have better ideas. Let’s start a conversation about reconstructing, not tinkering with, the British constitutional system we adopted a half-century ago. Now, please!
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.