Tue | Jul 23, 2024

To thine own self be true

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2024 | 12:13 AM
Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy, telecommunications and transport.
Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy, telecommunications and transport.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding with Mikael Phillips, member of parliament for Manchester North Western.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding with Mikael Phillips, member of parliament for Manchester North Western.

The following is a contribution from Government Minister Daryl Vaz on the matter of Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s British citizenship and position on constitutional reform.

In 2022 Mark Golding ended his Emancipation Day message by stating, “In celebration of the indomitable spirit of our foreparents who ‘would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery’, I wish you a Happy Emancipation Day.” On Labour Day, he again opened his message to the nation by referencing “Our colonial past”. It must be stated categorically that not all persons of Jamaican nationality possess our shared colonial past.

Mark Golding is a Jamaican by birth. He is also a British citizen by descent. For years he has been unwilling to disclose this to the Jamaican people. He continues to enjoy being part of the British citizenry whose forebears kept us in slavery.

Privacy and Private Members Motions

In 2020, the member of parliament for North West Manchester, Mikael Phillips, tabled a private member’s motion in the Lower House. In the motion, Phillips stated, “Be it resolved that this Parliament mandates the government to:

• Take the necessary steps in accordance with the constitution to remove the British monarch as Jamaica’s head of state and establish a new head of state of Jamaica to be known as the president of Jamaica.

• Appoint a small committee of appropriate professionals to undertake a six-month public education exercise on the desirability of having a republic system of government instead of a monarchical one,

• Thereafter hold a national referendum to approve the necessary constitutional changes.”

A quick visit to markgoldingja.com, a website managed by the leader of the Opposition, will reveal a news article titled “Opposition Leader Mark Golding Wants Jamaica to Become a Republic”. The article ends by stating that “Golding called on government officials to support a motion proposed by Parliament member Mikael Phillips. The motion proposes a referendum on replacing the Queen as head of State pinned to the next local government elections.”

Nowhere in that motion was there any insistence that Jamaica should abolish appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal.

It must be noted that several members of the Opposition have been left with egg on their face following the admission of Golding that he is a British citizen and the holder of a UK passport, days after they had publicly been chastising others on social media for suggesting that he is.

The Opposition, in the past, has similarly shared information and confronted members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) regarding citizenship and never did the affected members of the JLP deflect in an attempt to obfuscate.

Seven members of the JLP were deemed to be dual citizens and some challenged in court regarding their eligibility to sit as members of parliament in an attempt to overturn the results of the elections and take state power through the courts. Mr Golding and his team should take a step back and have a moment of reconciliation with the Jamaican people starting with a sincere apology for misleading and misinforming them on pertinent details regarding a man offering himself for high office.

When London Bridge is Falling Down

The popular London Bridge nursery rhyme tells the tale of the oldest river crossing in London crumbling after sustained pressure for years. Despite Mark Golding’s claims of winning the recent local government elections in contradiction of the official results of the Electoral Office of Jamaica; declaring the results as JLP winning 7, the PNP winning 6 and one tie; the results show that the JLP would have retained state power as a result of winning more constituencies than the PNP if the 2024 Local Government Elections were a general election.

Golding has decided to depart from the motion tabled by Mikael Phillips and his call made in his 2021 Budget Debate presentation. In March 2021, Mark Golding made his maiden presentation as leader of the Opposition following his party’s defeat at the polls and taking over the leadership of the PNP from Dr Peter Phillips.

In his opening statements Golding stated: “Some people may be of the view that it is the business of an Opposition to oppose for its own sake. We on this side do not hold that view. A developing country such as Jamaica cannot afford that approach when so much of the success of our young nation depends on harnessing the national will to achieve our national goals. We must support actions which we agree with, and be willing to assist the Government of the day with proposals and suggestions that we believe can help to make Jamaica stronger.”

It was in this maiden presentation that Golding called for the JLP to debate the private member’s motion from Mikael Phillips regarding the removal of the Queen as head of state. The private member’s motion was moved in December 2020. He stated that “the important process of repatriating our sovereignty, which began in 1962, has stalled, and there is unfinished business”.

This principle and approach by Mark Golding, if consistent today, would see Jamaicans well on the road to becoming a republic. Golding continued his presentation by making a statement that is even more admirable.

He said: “We also believe strongly in the importance of providing greater access to the highest level of justice for the Jamaican people, by moving from Her Majesty’s Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court of appeal. However, the consciousness of the other side is not there yet, so we should begin with the things we already agree on.”

We should begin with the things we already agree on. That is a direct quote of Mark Golding in 2021 and that is the premise upon which the Government had confidence in a phased approach to constitutional reform. His words, his suggestion that we begin with the things that we agree on.

The Trust Deficit – Fish or Fowl

During the closing of the Budget Debate, Minister Nigel Clarke outlined the impossibility of collaborating with the Opposition given the flip-flop manner in which Golding has been leading the PNP. The members of the PNP congratulated the current speaker of the House with glowing tributes but in his most recent budget presentation Golding raised an issue with her appointment. The leader of opposition business in the Lower House seconded the appointment but he found no inconsistency in joining in to raise an issue with the appointment. The Opposition has also flip-flopped on several other issues including the compensation packages for parliamentarians, the transport sector committee and now constitutional reform.

On May 14, Golding stated during a press conference that the PNP is “not in favour of a phased approach to decolonisation. We are not in favour of having one foot in and one foot out of the King’s yard. We must either be in or out. We can’t be neither fish nor fowl. Time come to deal with this matter once and for all”.

This is an about-turn from the proposition tabled by Golding in Parliament during his 2021 budget presentation. To be frank, the suggestion to “begin with the things that we agree on” was essentially Golding’s encouragement to move ahead with the removal of the Monarchy as our head of state and any other matters that are so agreed on. However, fast-forward to 2024, Golding has again betrayed the trust of the Jamaican people and the Government. Perhaps we are naive in thinking that Golding would have remained true to his word, given his track record in Opposition. Perhaps we were hopeful that he would put the Jamaican people before his party’s political interests. Perhaps we have been naive in believing the opening statements proffered by Mark Golding in 2021 as to the role of the Opposition and him “supporting actions that he agrees with and be willing to assist the government of the day with proposals and suggestions that we believe can make Jamaica stronger”.

What has become coined as having “one foot in and out foot out of the King’s yard” was the suggestion of Mark Golding. Hansard is there and there are countless records of this in the media and online. Why then would Golding betray the trust of the people and squander his credibility and what little political capital he has by contradicting himself and obstructing the constitutional reform process?

How does he explain or rationalise that by retaining his British citizenship, even after becoming leader of the Opposition with the hope of becoming prime minister he, himself, has “one foot in and one foot out”? He has spoken about the imperative of repatriating our sovereignty. Why has he been unwilling to repatriate that foreign half of his citizenship? What is so precious about it that he does not want to readily give it up?

Perhaps the reason is neither fish nor fowl but rather selfish and foul. The revelations that Mr Golding is a British citizen and knowledge that some changes being considered to be made to the Constitution may be unfavourable to him as a British citizen, may be the cause of his pivot from this principled position.

In three years, Golding has stated that his party is not only not in favour of a motion moved by his party, not in favour of a suggestion made by himself but also not in favour of having the people of Jamaica decide in a referendum matters critical to constitutional reform.

It is most hypocritical and a political conflict that a British citizen with one foot in Jamaica and one foot in the King’s yard is being allowed to impede our removal of the Monarchy and our progress to republic status. Not having “one foot in and one foot out” is the axiom of Mark Golding and the PNP and aligns with the motion tabled in Parliament by Mikael Phillips.

What goes for the goose and the gander must surely go for the fish and the fowl. If Mark Golding can, at this point in time, have one foot in the King’s yard and one foot in Gordon House, what good reason prohibits Jamaica from having one foot in and one foot out of the King’s yard in relation to our final court until agreement is reached on alternative arrangements? The time has come for the words and the actions of Mark Golding to align and for the Jamaican people and civil society to hold him accountable for his utterances and actions or inactions.

The real question that Golding must now consider is whether he has lost the trust of the Jamaican people as a result of his withholding such important information regarding his British citizenship which, for me, at this point in time, seems untenable and incurable and will possibly be challenged in court. Time will tell.