The spots are still on the leopard!
By Peter Espeut
Yes, we're counting! This year, Jamaica can mark 50 years since we threw off some of the chains of British colonialism, but quite a few shackles remain.
Our laws and processes are shackled to English jurisprudence, and even if we abolish the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as our final court of appeal, we will still be bound by the precedents of hundreds of years of British case law. Will we abolish that too, in honour of our 50th anniversary of Independence?
And speaking of honour, will we also abolish the practice of referring to ministers of government as 'honourable'? Surely, the last 50 years has taught us, so often, that appellation is inappropriate. Why don't we rankle every time we hear about the 'Most Honourable' and the 'Right Honourable' so-and-so?
After 50 years, shouldn't we abandon these British customs? The Americans have! They don't refer their president as 'The Most Honourable Barack Obama'. Why should we? We have long abandoned that inconvenient and honourable British custom of resigning from public office in the face of public scandal. Why not complete the process? Why hang on to this misleading descriptor?
What about addressing our mayors as 'Your Worship'? Did anyone (other than those in Tivoli Gardens) worship Desmond McKenzie? Does anyone other than Paul worship Angela? It sounds like a lodge! Do they address the mayor of New York or Paris or Cairo as 'Your Worship'? What does it mean anyway?
What about the powdered wigs and funny hats and the silk capes? And why do we have to have a mace on the table?
And if we throw out the 'Throne' Speech, mustn't we also throw out 'King's House? And Vale 'Royal'?
But why stop there? Why keep 'King Street' and (East and West) 'Queen Street' to remind us of William and Mary and our colonial past? And 'Princess Street' (really 'Prince's Street') and 'Orange Street' to remind us of those royal champions of Protestantism, 'dissing' poor Catholic King James?
Massive renaming exercise
If we want to put our royal colonial heritage behind us, we will have to undertake a massive renaming exercise, in every town in the country. We must rename 'Hanover', 'Clarendon' and 'St Catherine', not to mention 'Royal Flat', 'Hampton Court' and the dozens of places containing the name of the Royal House of 'Windsor'. And 'Victoria Town' and 'Albert Town'. And 'Kingston' itself will just have to go!
Why do we still try to speak the language of our former colonial masters? In this 50th year of our Independence from Britain, should we not declare our own home-grown labrish to be the official language of Jamaica?
But no! None of these anti-colonial steps will be taken. All the Government is proposing to do is to replace as our final court of appeal, the (truly independent) Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, with another court appointed by a committee appointed by local politicians.
This makes me very suspicious. Of course, I want us to paddle our own canoe, but judging by the last 50 years, and especially the last 20 years, "We nuh ready yet!" I can't trust the parties of Trafigura and Olint, of Green Bay and 'the mother of all garrisons', to put in place a genuinely independent final appellate court that may one day rule against them. There may be important corruption trials to come!
This is the only part of the system the politicians don't control. It's a naked power grab, powered by the drive for self-preservation!
So far, our politicos have failed to pass laws that really bind them, and impose meaningful penalties on themselves. Laws that bind them carry little by way of penalties for breaches. For example, if a public holiday is declared illegally by the prime minister, there is no penalty. And if a politician fails to make his integrity declaration, there is no punishment.
If the track record of our politicians over the last 50 years shows nepotism and skullduggery, self-serving legislation, lack of transparency, questionable land deals, links to garrisons and gunmen, and subverting the country's environmental laws, what evidence is there that they will set up a truly independent court of justice? Why should we believe that suddenly, after 50 years, the leopard has changed its spots?
I am not alone in this distrust, considering the record low turnout at our last two national elections. I expect that when these issues are put to the people in a referendum, the people will turn out to defeat it.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.