Mon | Dec 5, 2022

Letter of the Day | Bundling with local election vote won’t do

Published:Monday | September 26, 2022 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

The reason of saving of expenses, put forward in The Gleaner editorial of Thursday September 22, though of undoubted importance, is by no means enough, by itself, to convince of the wisdom of “bundling” the constitutionally required referendum to delink from the monarchy with a local government election vote. So that, reluctantly, I beg to disagree with the obviously well-intentioned suggestion, also put forward by others.

It can hardly be denied that the urge to move to republican status gathered great momentum following Barbados’ giant step forward, and has now received a mighty push by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The authorities would, however, be obliged to ask themselves: Is it our considered view that history will be kind to our country, Jamaica, which moved to republican status on the back of a 25-to-30-per cent public vote as is, hopefully, likely to ensue from a local election on to which such a landmark constitutional question was unprecedentedly ‘bundled’?

There are two main issues involved in the reform process: delinking from the monarch’s advisory body as our court of last resort, and moving away from the monarch as head of state.

The constitutional routes to detach from both limbs were fully settled by the time of the debate on the Charter of Rights in 2011 led by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding. The Privy Council had declared that a two-third majority vote was required in each house of parliament to accede to the CCJ, just as was required for passage of the Charter, and the constitution had mandated the holding of a referendum to delink from the monarchy.

Unlike providing access to the CCJ, moving away from the monarchy to become a republic, highly symbolic though it is, brings no tangible benefit to our citizens. So that, on a practical basis, regularising our situation with our final court is of more urgency and benefit to our less-privileged people.

Jamaica has waited over an extended period, so the referendum exercise ought not to be rushed. Time should be given for meaningful preparation and collaboration on all sides to ward off negative outcomes that usually attend referendum endeavours under the Westminster-style democratic system of government.

The issues of expense and savings, of course, cannot be ignored, in which case taking on the referendum on to a general election would likely produce a more acceptable outcome in terms of being able to urge voter participation.

But if the urgency is thought to be so great as to require an earlier vote, then the local government elections would certainly have to be postponed for far more than a few months to ensure meaningful preparation and to face that even more up-hill task in pursuit of greater vote participation than usual.

In the meantime, what would be the rationale for pushing for holding back the legislative process for our financially challenged majority to be able, at long last, to enjoy access to their highest court? And, is having to obtain a visa to enter the country where that court is located not an even more powerful reason, a reason of shame, for the enabling CCJ bills to be tabled?

DOUGLAS LEYS

Attorney-at-Law