In 1962, Jamaica became an independent nation. We adopted an anthem and a constitution. The anthem we teach in schools, and almost every Jamaican can either recognise, sing or recite parts, if not the whole of the anthem. "Justice, truth, be ours forever", is one of the clarion calls made by the chorus of the anthem. The general consensus is that there is no need for any change in the anthem. Not so with the Constitution. It is the fundamental law which governs and guides the jurisprudence and administration of our nation. Neither parliament nor the Prime Minister is allowed to act in contravention of the Constitution. It is the mother of all other laws in Jamaica. Yet, unlike the anthem, it is not taught in schools. It is written in complicated legalese.
The overwhelming majority of our people has never even read such an important document. Ignorance of a country's most basic and fundamental rights has allowed for the abuse of citizens' rights over the last 45 years by successive governments.
The people need to know the content of our constitution so that political spin doctors do not weave webs of deception causing confusion and achieving political outcomes not intended by the Constitution.
The imbroglio involving the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the new Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government is a good opportunity to examine aspects of the Constitution - a document which we have spent the last 31 years attempting to reform.
Two of our National Heroes, Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, led respective teams from the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labout Party to England in 1962 to negotiate 'a constitution' for the new Jamaica. Yes, the present Constitution with its checks and balances, limited as they may be, was the product of 'negotiations' by our founding fathers - not a gift from the British. The leaders and their political parties then, as is the case today, did not trust each other with the use of power.
Under the Constitution, special bodies were developed to advise the Governor-General on the appointment, removal and the exercise of disciplinary control over 'public officers'. There are three such bodies, namely, The Public Service Commission, The Judicial Service Commission and The Police Service Commission. The members of these bodies are determined by the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition - whoever these may be at the time of appointment. The Governor-General will make the appointments after being so advised by the Prime Minister and after he is satisfied that the requirements of the Constitution have been fulfilled.
conditions of appointments
In the case of the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission, the tenure can be up to five years for any particular appointment. If the appointment is for five years, it expires at the end of the five years after appointment. No law requires that the members of any of the commissions step down because of a change of government. No conventions about resigning after an election exist either. This convention applies to directors of boards appointed by ministers but not commissions enshrined in the constitution. In fact, our founding fathers envisaged that the PSC would function, unmolested by the vagaries of the political process.
The history of changes of government in Jamaica, in my view, supports this contention. The first change of government after Independence took place in 1972. No evidence of requests for resignations or dismissals of any of the commissions exist. It was five years into the Manley regime that changes in the composition of the PSC took place. By then, the five years of any particular appointment would have expired or Manley would have reappointed the commission after 1972, when appointments would have expired.
The second change took place in 1980. Then, the PSC resigned of its own volition. New members were then appointed, consistent with the Constitution which allows for voluntary resignation.
When the third change of government took place in 1989, all indications are that the PSC was allowed to serve out its natural time of appointment. Definitely, no requests for resignations or dismissals were made by the new government.
The effectiveness and usefulness of the Public Service Commission could be summed up in the exemplary performance of Mr. Adrian Strachan, the recently retired Auditor General. Appointed in 1979 by the PSC some described as pro PNP, Strachan served with distinction under five different prime ministers. He conducted himself with the utmost professionalism and respect while being critical of failings by successive governments. It is to protect the thousands of public officers like Strachan that the PSC is enshrined in the Constitution. It is there to serve Jamaica - not the government of the day - as the spin doctors want us to believe.
Justice and truth require that the Government stop playing politics with the PSC. The implementation of the 2005 Vale Royal accord on consensus on the appointment of the PSC is what is in the best interest of Jamaica, land we love.
Lambert Brown is president of the University and Allied Workers' Union, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.