Peter Espeut | The power of civil society
Well, June is here, and the minister of legal and constitutional affairs has not carried out her threat to table in the House of Parliament “Her Bill” to amend the Jamaican constitution which would lead to Jamaica becoming a republic. At a media forum on Monday, April 17, Minister Marlene Malahoo Forte had declared “I want to table my bill next month and it flows from there”.
Indeed, it would have been “Her Bill”, for until now the government has not engaged the Jamaican public in any consultations worthy of the name, nor has it conducted any public education exercise on the issues involved. Nor did any consultations or public education seem to be necessary, for the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) appointed by Prime Minister Holness, which had been meeting in secret, had already – on their own – reached “consensus” on several important matters.
A release on the JIS website dated April 17, headlined ‘Constitutional Reform Decisions Based on Consensus – Malahoo Forte’; states that during a press conference held on April 14, Mrs Malahoo Forte explained, “The committee has arrived at consensus for recommendation, the abolition of the constitutional monarchy. This is a non-controversial one … We are saying that we will be abolishing the constitutional monarchy as our form of government, and we will be removing the British Monarch from our Government. When that is done, it is to be replaced by a formal head of state for the Republic of Jamaica, a president.”
At the press conference reported by JIS, Mrs Malahoo Forte also explained that the selection of the president will include a nomination and confirmation process:
“The consensus is that it will be on the nomination of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the Opposition to be confirmed in the Parliament … and it is our intention to legislate that the two Houses sit together to make this determination on a special vote,” she said.
That “consensus” was going to be in the bill which Minister Malahoo Forte intended to table this week: that Jamaica’s president would not be directly elected by the people, but would be nominated by the prime minister (who would “consult” with the leader of the Opposition on the name, but would not be bound to take any advice); sounds like monarchical behaviour; and then the Lower House and the Senate would sit jointly and confirm the PM’s choice. With the present large majority in the Lower House, the delicate composition of the Senate to ensure Opposition agreement would be nullified. So much for consensus.
“We have also arrived on consensus on how a foreign country should be defined and simply, any country other than Jamaica will be a foreign country and the committee is of the view that with this reform, we will take out of the Constitution any reference to the Commonwealth. Any privilege to be attached to our relationship to the Commonwealth will be done in ordinary legislation, and not as part of our constitution,” she said.
Under our present constitution, Commonwealth citizens (Trinidadians, Canadians, Britons, Indians) resident in Jamaica for at least one year are entitled to be registered to vote in any Jamaican election or referendum. And so the bill Mrs Malahoo Forte intended to table this week would have sought to cancel that right, without public consultation or public discussion of the issue. “Consensus” within the (unrepresentative) CRC was enough to have that entitlement removed from our proposed new constitution.
Now I personally might agree with that suggestion, or I might not; but my point is that important matters which affect all of us are being discussed – and agreed on – behind closed doors – by what she calls “consensus”. And the plan was to present us with a “consensus” (of which we were not a part) to vote on in a referendum. A travesty of democracy! But typical of the approach the Holness administration has taken to governance.
MET IN SECRET
I notice that the joint select committee reviewing the 2017 Integrity Commission Act met at Gordon House Thursday in secret. In the aftermath of the salary scandal – amid widespread calls for transparency and accountability for politicians – and despite the announcement by the prime minister that accountability measures will be implemented, the press and the public were barred from hearing the deliberations on how the integrity of politicians will be ensured. Typical!
Expect less accountability! Declaration of assets will still be made to a secret committee, political donations and gifts will still remain secret, and the powers of enforcement and arrest by the commissioners will be reduced. Are we going to allow that?
I am convinced that Jamaica now stands at a crossroads in our history. Public discontent with government has never been so high. The private sector which funds Jamaican politics must insist on transparency and accountability in governance, starting with the contributions and gifts they make. If they demand it, it will happen.
But maybe that is too much to ask.
Civil society must also make its voice heard. The fact that the Government has backed down and backed off on tabling the bill to amend the constitution is testament to the power of widespread people protest. More protest by civil society will be necessary to bring about a decent constitution, as well as to reduce corruption in government.
FEMINISM POSING AS GENDER ACTIVISM
Many feminists now call themselves “gender activists” because they (correctly) claim that patriarchy negatively impacts men too, and they wish to promote the liberation of both men and women. Sounds good!
The campaign they wage is to bring an end to violence against women and girls; if they succeed, that will leave only violence against men and boys; is that the plan?
I have not heard even one so-called “gender activist” condemn the recent violent murder of a policeman by his wife. Is that not gender-based violence? Intimate partner violence? Men are victims too!
Time now for the feminists to stop masquerading, and to come out of the closet.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to email@example.com