Gordon Robinson | Seasonal distractions
Summer is officially over so Jamaica is currently knee deep in a flood of waste material produced by a new political silly season.
The first emission was an ill-conceived ultimatum issued to Government by His Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition (LOO), speaking as PNP President at PNP’s 85th annual conference. Mark told Government, in no uncertain terms, that, unless removal of our King was tied to the Privy Council’s replacement by Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), PNP wouldn’t support a Constitutional Reform Bill.
It was, as has become the norm from an inexperienced and often awkward looking political leader, the wrong place and time. And the wrong message!
His immediate audience of “die-hearted” devotees included very few who had seen much less read Jamaica’s Constitution. So, the message was wasted on them. Furthermore, any political leader with a smidgeon of political acumen should know that an ultimatum, on such a touchy political issue, only ensures Government could and would never agree. So the message served neither partisan political nor national purpose. It was just plain silly.
Minister Marlene was faster than Shelly-Ann from the blocks in announcing that the thorny issue wouldn’t form part of Phase I deliberations because that Phase was concentrated on issues requiring referendum. She assured us it was on Phase II’s agenda.
What exactly is Phase II’s agenda? When is it to begin? Since this Constitutional Reform Committee’s appointment ends at the next election who will conduct Phase II?
Minister Marlene has clearly forgotten that her Party Leader promised Jamaica a referendum on CCJ. What’s the difficulty in including that indicative referendum in the issues to be put to us in a Phase I referendum?
NOTHING! So this announcement sounds like a Phase Never-Never plan.
Let’s not forget that the infamous senate letters scandal was all about the then LOO’s desire to maintain JLP’s Senate veto power against CCJ. Consequently, he endured an embarrassing, tortuous court challenge from the senate letters scheme’s architect which he lost before the Full Court and Court of Appeal. At the time I publicly disagreed with both decisions. I still do. But the then LOO declined to take the matter to the very Privy Council he so fervently supported.
This is the context within which current LOO makes any public pronouncement on this sensitive issue. Any politically mature LOO would know the certain consequence of such public hostility. Furthermore, every Jamaican knows from experience that the same knife stick sheep stick goat. It will be a simple strategic ploy for JLP to postpone official discussion until after election. If JLP wins, its political capital will be sufficient for an early rejection of PNP’s proposal. If JLP loses, it’ll then have PNP’s current Senate veto power to frustrate PNP’s constitutional reform efforts. Obviously, quiet building of consensus to allow JLP to backpedal without fear of PNP public posturing is the proper way to go.
So what the clara gungus natty was Mark Golding thinking? Was he thinking? I guarantee you PJ Patterson, Jamaica’s most consensus-oriented PM to date, would never make such a politically counter-productive public gaffe. Rise United members seem mostly obsessed with contention but I’ll bet most of One PNP would avoid such oral clumsiness.
Then, after Marisa resigned as Speaker, it was widely expected that former Deputy Speaker, Juliet Holness, would be promoted. She fuelled the speculation with her own statement in advance of last Tuesday’s election that she’d be happy to accept nomination. This was imprudent and didn’t augur well for the future. She’d be well advised to understand that persistent premature pronouncement provoking patient public produces particularly painful prying.....
But she didn’t deserve much of the senseless adverse social media comment bruited about. One former PNP Cabinet Minister posited that having the leader of the Legislature married to the Leader of Executive Government would be “a conflict of interest”.
Why would husband and wife heading Executive and Legislative branches be a “conflict of interest”? BOTH are independently elected by constituents. Is this warped view based on patriarchal rules? Or is it an admission that Jamaica doesn’t have a genuinely separate Executive and Legislature?
Was this a involuntary admission that Jamaica needs urgent, radical constitutional reform to create a true separation of powers? Have even former PNP Cabinet members finally faced the reality that more and more voters (36% according to latest Panderson Polls) are tired of One Don Governance and want an Executive President? An Executive President selects his cabinet from outside Parliament but nominees are vetted by the people’s parliamentary representatives. Then Government is monitored and regulated by Parliament.
Was the misconceived allegation of “conflict of interest” belated, although somewhat confused, support for REAL separation of powers? Will Government and Opposition, currently on a relentless mission to preserve the old order under a new name, wake up and smell the smoldering embers of voters’ discontent? Will Government and Opposition agree to embark on a rational constitutional reform process? That would mean, after extensive public education, holding an indicative referendum on preferred governance style (separation of powers or Westminster)? Then, Phase II should encompass every constitutional reform amendment needed to implement the chosen governance style.
No need for a Phase III.
Jamaican governance’s absurdity was highlighted by recently announced massive increases in Senators’ fees while political leaders’ decision to pay themselves 200-300% more was still fresh. Government’s announcement was made by letter dated August 31 from the Finance Ministry circulated widely including to Parliament. The Senate Clerk then advised the President and Leaders of Government/Opposition Business (September 14) that payment will commence “with immediate effect.”
A furore raised by Peter Bunting (for political not constitutional reasons) gained momentum on social media and the order was swiftly rolled back by Nigel Clarke who, on September 26, said he directed that the September 14 letter was to be rescinded.
I’m sure Nigel didn’t mean to fall on his own sword when he proffered, as an excuse for the original letter that it “followed from a Cabinet decision of 2008 that automatically indexed the stipend of Senators to the highest fee paid for service as a board director of a public body.”
Here we go again. Governments, brainwashed by Westminster, clearly don’t understand they have NO AUTHORITY to peg political salaries to anything. As I wrote (July 2; Pay Increase Hypocrisy):
“This embarrassing poppy show could have been and still can be avoided by simply inserting into the Constitution a provision giving Public Services Commission power to fix PMs/Presidents’, MPs’ and Councilors’ salaries.”
This wasn’t my idea. This is what the Constitution mandated in 1962 ( Order in Council section 8):
“Until other provision is made in that behalf, the salary and allowances payable to members of either House, the President and Deputy President of the Senate, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries shall be those payable to the persons last holding the corresponding offices immediately before the commencement of this Order”
Cabinet decisions cannot qualify as a constitutionally mandated “other provision”. Such “other provision” must at least be statutory but, preferably, in the Constitution itself.
Instead of prescribing a constitutionally inoffensive independent structure for assessment of parliamentary salaries, we are squabbling defensively about politics to the extent that the Information Minister actually asserted: “GOJ never announced an increase” and, when challenged, doubled-down “Government did not announce an increase to Senators”.
Under pressure from the facts, he retreated to this final position.
“The Financial Secretary writes to the Clerk of Parliament based on the pegging of Senate stipends since 2009 which makes increases automatic. The Clerk writes to the President of the Senate, Peter Bunting and Kamina Johnson-Smith to notify them of this automatic adjustment. All this done without the knowledge of the government as it is automatic.”
So let’s see if I understand. No matter how many times you automatically say “automatic” what you’re actually saying is Government wrote a letter to the Legislature without Government’s knowledge?
This MUST be the Guy Lombardo Show!
There’s no doubt we cannot continue like this. Only urgent, comprehensive constitutional reform can rescue Jamaican governance from becoming a three-ring circus. So, are you all sitting down? On Saturday, September 23, Electoral Office officials visited Cast Tout to verify my residential address. They informed me that, as of January 2024, I’ll be on the voters list.
Calm down. I’ve no intention of voting in any General Election that doesn’t offer me a direct vote for Head of Government, by whatever name, then separately for MP and Senator. But I promise Minister Marlene that, come any constitutional reform referendum, I won’t engage in “railroading” or “bullying”. It will be just one man, one vote.
Peace and Love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to email@example.com