Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Jamaican chamber demands electoral changes

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2015 | 10:35 PM
McDonald ... It is timely for us, as the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, to put it to our elected representatives, that as a nation, as an electorate, we deserve much better than this.

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce is making a four-point demand amid indications that there could be general elections soon.

In a release today, Chamber president Warren McDonald demanded a fixed election date, joint local and national election, campaign finance reform and term limits.

SEE FULL STATEMENT BELOW:

By some indications, Jamaica will have general elections soon.

Many pundits are putting together minutes of radio and television commentary or wiring column inches of opinions to offer their reasoning why this is so or not so, and numerous laymen from all walks of life who see their undertakings as being influenced one way or another not just by the staging of general elections but also by their timing, are busy reading the tea leaves or trying to find that insider who definitely knows what is coming down the road.

It is timely for us, as the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, to put it to our elected representatives, that as a nation, as an electorate, we deserve much better than this. There are four areas that spring to mind:


1. Jamaica Deserves a Fixed Election Date

That type of situation just described, to my mind, is a relic of a history that we should put behind us. The only people who benefit from that uncertainty are politicians. No matter what they want to say in defence of this aspect of the Westminster model, the truth is that both our major political parties prefer the current situation wherein they are able – or more accurately, one person – the head of government is able to fly the gate at a time of her or his choosing … meaning when it is most advantageous politically, so to do. This, I submit, flies in the face of modern democracies, where predictability across a wide range of metrics, is seen as a positive when it comes to legislation, regulations that underpin any economy.

The Jamaican government would be well served, we believe, to consider the example of the UK, which passed its Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, setting the interval between elections at five years, so that today, the electorate in the United Kingdom knows that in the absence of two specific situations, vim an intervening Vote of No Confidence or the passage of a motion for a general election agreed by two-thirds of the seats in the lower house, the next general election will be held there on Thursday May 7, 2020!

2. Jamaica Deserves Joint Local Government & National Elections

The assertion by the ECJ that Jamaica would save some $1.5 billion at current costs if the next Local Government and General Elections were to be staged simultaneously has, unsurprisingly, not resonated within the political parties – certainly not in the public sphere anyway.

When we consider that despite all the claims to the contrary by both political parties, the local government institutions is largely treated as an afterthought; a mechanism whose life can be extended indefinitely by the passage of a Parliamentary bill under the pretext that (yet more) local government reforms are being finalised – it should come as no surprise that the efficiency and standards of governance of the various parish councils rates so poorly by the persons who expect a range of services from them.

We call upon the parties in parliament to stop treating the parish councils as little more than weather vanes to judge the political  fortunes of whichever ruling party is in power, to stop this destructive practice of postponing local government elections because their outcomes may not be politically auspicious, and to ensure that the next time Jamaica goes to the polls, the long-suffering taxpayers of this country are assured that the call to minimise expenses does not once again suffer in the face of political expediency  and that urgency will be persuasive enough that we can have both elections held simultaneously.

At the same time, let us expand the voting process to include on the election ballot, issues of national importance. For instance, are the people of Jamaica not sufficiently mature to have their voices heard on the Caribbean Court of Justice? Are they not sufficiently discerning to address issues other than the election of individuals on a ballot? I believe that they are. But, if in the view of our political parties, they are not, that fact is a signal judgement on their governance over all these years that they have been managing our country’s path since 1962!


3. Jamaica Deserves Campaign Finance Reform

The discussion regarding campaign finance reform has been underway for well over a decade without much tangible to show for it. The most recent effort, the proposals emanating from the ECJ were not only debated but approved in parliament in 2011 and 2013, but have since stalled. We are not going to presume that we know for certain why it has, but it is difficult to escape the view that the parties represented in Parliament have a mutual disinterest in seeing any changes to a system that has worked to their benefit for decades - even if, in the view of many observers, that very system accommodates an utter lack of transparency and supports all types of conjecture regarding the ultimate “owners” of our agenda.

Nothing that these parties can say in their defence, no accusations impugning the motives of their critics, can hope to change that perception as long as they continue to drag their feet and resist the introduction of Comprehensive Campaign Finance Legislation.

We therefore join the call coming from many quarters that now is the time to bring the legislation to parliament for a vote.


4. Jamaica Deserves Term Limits

I believe that it is time that we institute term limits on our elected officials, particularly those at the very top who currently enjoy an incredibly wide ranging set of powers. In a number of leading democracies, and not just in the developed world, the bar has been set for two consecutive terms. Even though in a number of countries we have seen officials who are sufficiently arrogant as to believe that it is they and only they who have the acumen to direct their nations’ affairs, and manipulate the system to run indefinitely, or to sit out for a term and then resume later on, it is hard to think that any Jamaican leader, from either of our major parties, could advance such a claim to any audience beyond their most tribal supporters. Ours, after all, is an economy that has grown by less than 2% on average since independence under their stewardship!