Columns

Jamaica needs a new constitution

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, December 29, 2017

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For 55 years our constitution has been uninspiring, and more people can quote the US's one than ours. It did not get us to eschew crime or be productive, so if we toss it we lose nothing.

The model was used in over 50 nations. Inspired by the British, it was to dampen not stimulate, lest the beast be aroused. That small island of 10 million once ruled the world; not size, but curiosity, zest for profit, and self-belief. Let's use a new constitution to build our own mental muscle!

Our constitution was created by politicians for politicians. Our negotiators were bright, but this seminal paper is a soulless capon. A pithy, sententious treatise might be better for Haiti, as the American Revolution in our backyard had no impact on them. The oratory of Norman Manley, the free-wheeling populism of Sir Alexander Bustamante is absent. Considering their record; scion of slaves in a terrible, convoluted history we would expect more soulful resonance. But it is as it is.

Americans used their constitution to recap hurts; umbrage with the British and moved from colony to superpower. Success is the best revenge, so they wrote with high values. Thus:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”

It moves through legislative, judicial and executive in a few deft strokes which marvel the world. Today, we are glued to TV and watch the cut and thrust of their democracy. This is magical!

Our constitution is some 200 pages of gravel to scarify the soul. It ignores the back story of pain, Nanny and George Gordon. Was there no contentious issue? Whitewash? Did they talk sustainability; repatriation for Rasta, reparation from planters for unpaid work; payment by the State as slave owners got? What happened at Buckingham Palace? Were our guys dutiful colonials or spoke truth to power? Even in America's case compensation was an issue. Friend, this conversation is not over.

A new constitution must engage all. Violation of natural law by African sellers; betrayal of Christian values by buyers to justify business imperatives with scriptural injunction is context. Both acted publicly yet violated no law of Africa or Europe. It must inspire heroism, celebrate ancestors' resilience — mantras, so we subdue Tainoland. Current mantras include “coward man keep sound bone”, which is in our psyche from our youth; or “he that fights and runs away will live to fight another day” embeds cowardice and risk-aversity, so after 55 years, steeped in this subliminal mush, this is our nature, but we can turn things around. We must!

The Queen is a nice, old lady — soon to have a mixed-race daughter-in-law — but police will no longer swear an oath to her — big deal! If she is a shackle, will our prime minister, ministers; civil service, judiciary, lawyers un-swear theirs? Our lands are Crown lands, yes. Did Cabinet buy it, as USA the Virgin Islands, or win it in war as brave Haitians? Is the Queen's seal on your land title? Our “Eternal Father bless our land” is us seeking a bly from a higher-up source. God gave us the finest micro-computer in thick skulls, yet ministers call on God to do their job. Idiocy abounds so the soul of black folk is restless. Read this aloud:

“Jamaica Constitution Order in Council 1962; Caribbean and North Atlantic territories: Present in council The Queen, most excellent majesty in council. Her Majesty, by virtue of and in exercise of the powers in that behalf by subsection (1) of section 5 of the West Indies Act, 1962, or otherwise in her vested is pleased by and with her Privy Council to order and it is hereby ordered as follows:- 1.-(1) This order may be cited as the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council 1962.”

This gobbledygook was a gift from The Queen and not about us. Read aloud to compare:

“In Congress, July 4, 1776: The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America. 'When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect of the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to this separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

It reads like vintage Manley, sadly not. Their constitution begins, “We the people” and was effected in 1789 with 30 amendments up to 1992. The 1st Amendment is freedom of religion, the press; the second is the right to keep and bear arms, the sixth is “speedy trial by jury”. Imagine that! The elephant in our room is why in 1962 did Manley and Bustamante not do something similar for the scion of slaves? Andrew may make history by plans for a local constitution to give all a happy new year! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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