Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Peter Espeut | More ginnalship: creating a monarchy

Published:Friday | May 24, 2024 | 12:09 AM
Peter Espeut writes: If the CRC recommendations are incorporated in Jamaica’s new Constitution, the power and prerogatives of whichever party forms the Opposition will be severely curtailed ...
Peter Espeut writes: If the CRC recommendations are incorporated in Jamaica’s new Constitution, the power and prerogatives of whichever party forms the Opposition will be severely curtailed ...

The recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) are exactly what I expected from a bunch of political appointees representing the party in power, dedicated to make proposals to increase the power of the ruling party over the opposition and the people. The opposition nominees did not sign the final report. I don’t see how they could! If the CRC recommendations are incorporated in Jamaica’s new Constitution, the power and prerogatives of whichever party forms the Opposition will be severely curtailed, as I will explain. What these recommendations do is create a Jamaican monarchy, with the prime minister (PM) as the supreme monarch.

Readers: please download a copy of the CRC report for yourself, and read it. Verify for yourself that what I say below is indeed so.

Let us get straight to the point: The President is the Prime Minister’s man or woman, whether the Opposition party likes it or not, and even if they strongly object to the Prime Minister’s nominee.

Section 4.3.1: “The selection of the President is to be done through a two (2) stage process of nomination and confirmation:

i. Nomination by the Prime Minister, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition with a view to arriving at consensus; and

ii. Confirmation by the Parliament, in a joint sitting of both Houses, on a vote of two-thirds ( ) majority of each House voting separately by secret ballot.

iii. In the absence of consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, each is empowered to make a separate nomination to be confirmed by both Houses of the Parliament sitting jointly, on a vote of an absolute majority of each House voting separately by secret ballot.”

What a piece of ginnalship! The PM goes to the Leader of the Opposition (LO) with his nominee. If the LO agrees (i.e., there is consensus) then the name goes to both houses who must confirm by a two-thirds majority. But if both sides agree, the vote will be 100 per cent for the PM’s nominee!

But if there is no consensus, then both the PM and the LO name their candidates, and both names go to Parliament where a simple majority in both houses determines the President. By definition, the PM has more members in both the House and Senate, and therefore the monarch’s (sorry! The PM’s) man or woman will always win! What a piece of ginnalship! I cannot give the PM so much power. I cannot support that!

But why not a two-thirds majority? Because in close election, say where the ruling party has only one more seat in the lower house than the opposition, the PM would lose. So it has to be a simple majority guaranteeing the victory. What a piece of ginnalship! Long live the king!

Suppose a government has a two-thirds majority in the elected lower house (like the government has now), and they wish to change the constitution to give themselves more power, this will be difficult under the present constitution because to attain a two-thirds majority in the appointed upper house, one of the opposition members has to vote with the government. [PM Holness has always been afraid of this crossover like puss, which is why in his first term, he required his senators to sign undated letters of resignation before their appointment, which was ruled to be unconstitutional]. Setting the senate so the government does NOT have a two-thirds majority is the most important provision in our present constitution checking the absolute power of the government. A stroke of genius by our founding fathers!

But the Andrew Holness government wishes to remove this check on the absolute power of the governing party. Section 4.10:

“Composition of the Senate – increased from its present membership of twenty-one (21) to twenty-seven (27) appointed by the President as follows:

i. Fifteen (15) members on the recommendation of the Prime Minister;

ii. Nine (9) members on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition; and

iii. Three (3) members in the President’s discretion from among outstanding persons in the private sector, civil society, faith-based or community-based organisations or other sectors of society as the President considers necessary.”

Remember that the President is the PM’s man or woman, and so in a crucial vote, the three senators the President selects are likely to be supportive of the PM. Result: government votes 15 + 3 = 18; opposition votes: 9. Government always wins by a two-thirds majority. What a piece of ginnalship! No more constitutional checks and balances. More power for the government. Long live the king!

If the CRC recommendations are incorporated in Jamaica’s new constitution, the power of the PM will be absolute. Under the Andrew Holness constitution, Andrew Holness will have more power than Queen Elizabeth or King Charles ever had. Jamaica’s PM will be a real monarch!

Over the last year and more in this column I have been pointing out how the government has avoided public consultation and public education on the present and reformed constitution, and the CRC Report confirms it.

“Public Education and Engagement

13.5.1 It will be essential for the successful completion of this phase of the constitutional reform project that the public be sensitised to its importance and persuaded to adopt a positive attitude to the proposed reforms.

13.5.2 The constitutional amendment process lays down a liberal time schedule/frame for the tabling, debate and passage of the reform Bill. As provided for by the Constitution, a period of three (3) months must elapse between the tabling of the Bill and the commencement of the debate in the House of Representatives. A further period of three (3) months must elapse between the conclusion of that debate and the passing of the Bill by the House of Representatives.

13.5.3 This timeline allows for full public education and engagement on the content of the Bill.

13.5.4 Accordingly, the CRC recommends that the public education and engagement exercises should be expanded and given the support of the political leaders of the nation and all Parliamentarians” (emphasis in original).

So the government intends to engage the public to “persuade” us to accept their proposals. They have no intention to ask us what we want to be in the constitution, and there is no space in the timeline for our comments to be incorporated. But we saw that all along.

I have many other objections to what has been recommended, but the above is enough for me to vote “No!” when the time comes.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.