IMPEACH AND RECALL
- Nearly all J’cans want elected officials impeached for crimes, poll finds - Roughly half believe PM has too much power
More than a decade of stalling in the Parliament, an overwhelming majority of Jamaicans want the debate on impeachment and recall resurrected and laws put in place to hold political representatives found guilty of criminal and/or moral crimes accountable.
At the same time, almost 50 per cent of Jamaicans believe that the office of the prime minister has too much power under the model of the parliamentary system adopted from Britain.
The findings are contained in polls conducted by the Don Anderson-led Market Research Services Limited (MRSL) between August 30 and September 14, 2023 on behalf of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.
It showed that 91.5 per cent of Jamaicans want impeachment legislation for charges to be brought against elected officials found guilty of unlawful activities. Just under five per cent (4.9) were not in support of such a move, while 3.6 per cent were unsure.
Some 88.8 per cent want recall legislation for underperforming members of parliament who are not performing satisfactorily. Another 7.5 per cent said they did not support this, while 3.7 per cent did not know or were unsure.
Jamaicans also weighed in on the power in the hands of the prime minister.
When asked, “Do you feel that under the present system, the prime minister has too much power?”, 45.2 per cent of the respondents said yes; 37 per cent said no; and 17.8 per cent said they were not sure or didn’t know.
To achieve a national representative sample of the population, the researchers interviewed a total of 1,010 persons aged 18 years and older across all parishes.
Don Anderson, founder and chief executive of MRSL, noted that each question was analysed by the demographic variables of age, gender, socio-economic group and by parish. The margin of error was plus or minus three per cent.
‘SEEING IS FUNDAMENTAL’
As it relates to the impeachment issue, Anderson said that it was explained to the respondents what the word ‘impeachment’ meant before soliciting their feedback.
“There is a concern that there needs to be more urgency to holding persons in public office accountable. Most persons feel that when something happens involving a public official, the process is too protracted and such persons are more likely not to be held accountable, and so there is the very strong view that there should be sanctions for persons running the country who run afoul of the law,” Anderson told The Sunday Gleaner.
On the issue of recall, the pollster said persons felt that elected representatives who have not done their jobs should be removed from office.
“One of the things we find when we ask these questions about MPs (members of parliament) or councillors is that people complain that they do not see them. And I think that’s an important criterion by which they are judged. When they don’t see you, they believe you are not performing. Seeing is fundamental, because if they see them, they perceive they are doing a good job,” stated Anderson.
Regarding the perception of the prime ministerial power, he said the views are divided, but a high percentage believe the holder of the office has too much power.
“The gap between the percentages is good enough. The plus or minus position is really in a political situation where the vote intent is close. When you have an eight per cent gap, you say the views are divided, but in favour of one side, and in this case the view is that the prime minister has too much power,” Anderson explained.
He noted, however, that there was a common theme which has led him to believe that the “general public is not as informed as they should be”.
The findings of the poll reflect positions long been held by the National Democratic Movement (NDM), which believes the electorate was tired of the two-party political system – with all the power concentrated and abused – and wanted other options.
Michael Williams, who is the current chairman of the NDM, said the party did not invent the wheel with its recommendation for impeachment and recall legislation when it was launched nearly 20 years ago. Instead, it built on recommendations from the Carl Stone Committee’s 1992 report, as well as studies of other models.
“We proposed impeachment and recall legislation a long time ago. This is for every MP, including the prime minister. As part of the reform process, the Constitutional Reform Committee must consider legislation to recall elected representatives who are not doing their jobs or who have run afoul of the law,” Williams told The Sunday Gleaner.
“The NDM also proposed job descriptions for every elected representative a long time ago, so you can judge them against it.”
Without that, he said, it would be almost impossible to determine how a representative is performing, adding that Jamaicans are already wary of politicians as most believe they are not doing a good job and most are corrupt.
Speaking of the power in the hands of the prime minister, Williams said, “The PM has the supreme law to appoint from his side who he wants to be ministers, so no one will rock the boat even in the face of wrong. And because the PM has the sole right to call the election, any day anyone goes up against him or her, the entire Parliament can be asked to face an election, which should not be.”
In 2010, Bruce Golding’s administration tabled impeachment legislation, but it was shelved after the firestorm over the Government’s handling of an extradition request by the United States for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.
In 2021, Opposition Leader Mark Golding presented a reworked version, following the controversy involving Westmoreland Central MP George Wright – the former member of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) who was widely believed to be the man in a video beating a woman with a stool. There was no evidence to prove that he was the person accused and he has neither confirmed nor denied being the perpetrator. In the absence of impeachment and recall legislation, Wright remains an independent member of the Lower House.
Currently, only the Portmore mayor, who is directly elected, can be recalled via legislation. Twenty-five per cent of the registered voters in the municipality have the power to trigger an investigation into the conduct of the mayor by the local government minister. A vote by two-thirds of the members of the Portmore Municipal Corporation can cause an impeachment investigation.
The late political scientist, Professor Carl Stone, in a 1992 report arising from a backlash to proposed salary hikes for MPs, noted that 72 per cent of Jamaicans at the time supported the recall of parliamentarians “who in their (constituents’) judgement are not performing”. It was his recommendation that at least 51 per cent of the constituency’s registered voters should be able to sign a petition to trigger the recall of an MP.
In the current RJRGLEANER-commissioned polls, the respondents indicated their overwhelming support for legislation to provide a mechanism for the recall of MPs who constituents believe are not serving them well.
Last month, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert resigned from her two substantive posts as House Speaker and MP, following implications in the findings of an Integrity Commission report. Her Trelawny Southern constituents are urging her not to resign as their political representative, a post she has held since 2007. Under the current system, there is no legislation to have her removed from the position as MP.
‘THEY ARE NOT KINGS AND QUEENS’
Desmond Richards, former chief editor of the Jamaica Herald newspaper and now manager at Rebel Radio, is heartened by the poll findings.
Urging Jamaicans to remember that parliamentarians are to represent their interests, Richards said if the people’s representatives operate contrary to the laws of the land or do not serve their interests, they should be recalled. Breaches of the country’s laws should be cause for impeachment, recall and criminal prosecution, he argued.
“They are not kings and queens, but they are behaving so because of how the system operates, but they are servants of the people,” Richards declared to The Sunday Gleaner.
“MPs should hold regular meetings with constituents and represent their interests in the Parliament as part of their duties. But this is not happening and there is no legislation to sanction them, except every five years. Constituents need to repossess their authority. We should have rules to impeach and recall elected representatives who breach the laws of the country or their job description.”
Richards also concurs that the prime minister has too much power.
“Jamaican prime ministers have too much power and the one that jumps to my mind immediately is the sole power to call elections. The prime minister should not be the sole determinant of the election date. That should be fixed,” said the veteran journalist.
According to him, Jamaica is at a point where there is need to decentralise some of the powers of the prime minister and “give some of this power to Parliament”.
HIGH LEVELS OF MISINFORMATION
The poll findings come at a pivotal time in the nation’s history as the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) is now undertaking the task of restructuring the 1962 Constitution.
One of the critical changes being contemplated is to remove the British monarchy as head of state and transform the country into a republic.
CRC member Dr Nadeen Spence said the public engagement on constitutional reform has opened her eyes to the high levels of misinformation out there.
She believes that the current discussion on the prime minister’s powers is triggered by the push for constitutional reform, arguing that while the prime minister has significant powers, there are checks and balances to negate overstep. She said many Jamaicans do not understand how the current system works.
“Our political system has some built-in systems that curtail the powers of the prime minister in significant ways. What we haven’t done is investigate it so we can sufficiently educate the people about how it works. Many are of the view that prime ministers sit in a room and give edicts of what is to be done. That is not so, but too many persons have this belief,” she shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
Spence said that too many students of politics are taught about the value of the United States presidential system, while encouraged to critique the British parliamentary system without looking at its value.
“People don’t know about the systems of accountability that are built into a parliamentary system. What being on the CRC has taught me is that people know how to critique it, but they do not know what it is. Any impeachment legislation will bring duplication for accountability,” she stated.
Committees, questions time, elections, no-confidence votes, the Integrity Commission, the Auditor General’s Department, and Standing Orders are among some of the accountability framework the parliamentary system has at its disposal, she said.
She wondered how many of those polled knew of these built-in systems.
“The judiciary is also a powerful accountability tool. What we need is a massive public education programme to educate people about the system before we throw it away,” Spence told The Sunday Gleaner, stressing that a concerted effort must be made to close the knowledge gap in the shortest possible time.
Anderson noted that all persons polled were registered to vote in the areas in which they lived. Smartphones were used to capture and record the information from the interviews. Fieldwork was validated by random call-backs to approximately 25 per cent of all persons interviewed.