Letter of the Day | The opportunity for a true republic
THE EDITOR, Madam:
Jamaicans from all walks of life understand the crucial connection between governance and our desired outcomes: a thriving economy, order, freedom, and justice. These themes are deeply ingrained in our history and culture, and we now have the opportunity to modernise our system of governance.
NOT A SYMBOLIC EXERCISE
I stand with the numerous voices urging the Constitutional Reform Committee to seize this monumental opportunity and avoid reducing it to a mere exercise in symbolism. We must fix our democracy. I am proud of the many Jamaicans who have spoken out, expressing their preference for meaningful reform over a costly exercise that only replaces British names and symbols with others. The level of engagement and the nature of questions being asked make this clear.
The demand for genuine reform is not new. Locksley Lindo’s insightful book, Jamaica Betrayed, argued that we have focused more on national flora, fauna, and food than on establishing a form and system of government that truly serves us. This is not a criticism of our founding fathers, but a recognition that we have struggled to implement the Westminster parliamentary system, which does not suit us and fails to reflect the ideals of the Jamaican people. Like many others, I am amazed and honoured to be part of this moment in our nation’s history, where we can finally create a nation for the people and by the people. Let us not waste it.
I agree with and reiterate many suggestions already made by like-minded thought leaders (including Gordon Robinson and Carvel Stewart), which includes several of Holness’ key “first 100 day” promises which have not yet been met, along with a few additions.
Removing the king alone will not make us a true republic, nor will it fulfil our longing for nationhood and good governance. We need the following changes:
• Abolish the post of Governor General without a titular replacement;
• Ensure all political representatives and the President are directly elected;
• Separate the executive branch from the legislative branch, so that ministers focus on their respective portfolios and MPs on their constituencies;
• Establish an independent budget and administrative arm for the courts, ensuring they remain separate from the Ministry of Justice;
• Entrench job descriptions for MPs and set fixed election dates, adjustable only by a two-thirds vote in both Houses, as promised;
• Impose term limits on elected officials, as promised;
• Enable impeachment of public officials by an independent Parliament and recall elections for MPs who do not perform, as promised;
• Carefully amend the Charter of Rights to include provisions for the physically and mentally disabled, without delving into controversial areas;
• Replace the first-past-the-post election system with a more inclusive, cost-effective method, like ranked choice voting.
This list is not exhaustive, but it captures the core consensus reached over the years. There are other issues, such as the power of the Finance Minister to unilaterally impose taxes under the Provisional Collection of Tax, and the method for electing the Senate.
AVOID POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY
There is a sense of urgency to implement constitutional reform while the Government maintains its special majority. There has been talk of a referendum, but no concrete plans have been laid out. Meanwhile, some entrenched politicians may resist these changes for their own political reasons. It seems that many politicians love the remains of a colonial system designed to keep power away from the people.
It benefits the ruling party to maintain a symbolic head of state, control the executive and legislative branches, and manipulate election dates for their advantage. However, our political system has been identified as a significant contributor to many of our issues, including crime and corruption, as highlighted in the National Security Policy.
We can only hope that our current politicians see their legacy as more than just dominating this antiquated system. PM Holness, the Government, and opposition parties have the rare opportunity to courageously usher in a new era of democracy in Jamaica.
Founding fathers are remembered for their boldness in shaping nations, not for their expedient political manoeuvres. PM Holness can go down in world history for dramatically enhancing democracy in Jamaica as a leading post-colonial nation, or he can choose the modern version of ‘ackee and saltfish’ and ‘lignum vitae’ government.
I am confident that Jamaica is unlike other countries that might be satisfied with another symbolic independence moment. We want a true republic, and we are ready for it. It’s time for our leaders to rise to the occasion, embrace the reforms needed, and deliver the real change that Jamaicans have been longing for.
Let this moment in history be defined by our collective pursuit of a brighter, more democratic future for all.