PNP stratagem: Marrying republic status with CCJ
Though rejected by the people in February 2016, and again in September 2020, His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the People’s National Party (PNP), continues to delude itself with three false notions.
Firstly, the PNP has seemingly lost all consciousness of the reality that it no longer has the keys to Jamaica House. The party seems to suffer with a type of political epilepsy. Clovis, this newspaper’s cartoonist, some time ago delivered an engrossing toon in which a rather discombobulated Dr Peter Phillips, then leader of the Opposition and President of the PNP, was depicted with a very begrudging look on his face as he crouched outside Jamaica House.
Secondly, the PNP continues to claim political patronage for everything which puts the Andrew Holness-led Administration in a favourable light. This is most irrational.
Thirdly, the PNP seems preoccupied with using what sources say are dwindling resources to plant a political chokehold on the Administration’s plans and programmes. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is in power, but the PNP will rule, seems a major misapprehension of the PNP. That elections have consequences escapes the PNP.
Stick ’em up!
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte, in her sectoral debate presentation last June, stated that a Constitutional Reform Committee would be established to include representatives from the Government, Opposition, relevant experts, and members of the wider society. She said the committee would be appointed to ensure Jamaica’s smooth transition to a republic.
Now consider this banner headline: ‘Opposition declines to name members to Constitutional Reform Committee’ (RJR News, January 10, 2023). What is the crux of Mark Golding’s wrangle? These snippets in the mentioned news item proposed an explanation:
“The Opposition leader said he also communicated to Minister Malahoo Forte that the matter of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becoming Jamaica’s final appellate court is as important as the transition to republic status and should also be considered by the Constitutional Reform Committee.
“He argued that the move to a republic state must not be done in a piecemeal way but that the country must ‘complete our decolonisation, achieve full sovereignty and political independence by moving away from the [King’s] Privy Council as our final court’.”
Golding’s approach sounds like a failed 50-year-old stratagem.
The mentioned news item also noted: “Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding has declined to name Opposition Members of Parliament to sit on the Constitutional Reform Committee, chaired by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte.”
In the 1970s, because of the tremendous “shortages, stoppages and outages”, as late Prime Minister Edward Seaga termed the massive scarcities of critical services, crucial utilities, and many basic food items, there was a cruel system of “marrying” goods at shops. This meant that in order to get certain basic food items, consumers were forced to buy an item or items which they did want or need. It seems to me that the Opposition leader is now attempting to resurrect this antediluvian system and affixing it the to our nation’s march to republic status. Bad ideas are winning in the PNP, it seems.
I believe Malahoo Forte is accurate in her conclusion that Golding is “seeking to twin the issues of the move to a republic and the move to make the CCJ Jamaica’s final appellate court”.
Golding’s actions here seem to be another conspicuous attempt to stick up the Administration and retard its agenda — it having been duly elected to manage the affairs of the country for five years.
I believe Malahoo Forte is right to express disappointment with the Opposition’s position.
Well-thinking folks are correct to express alarm that Mark Golding has decided to again travel the route of antagonism when he could have used the consultative arena of the proposed committee to fully elucidate the PNP’s concerns and possibly have the country informed and educated on the cogency and legitimacy of the Opposition’s apprehensions.
I do not see how Golding’s discordant approach here will win any significant political brownie points for 89 Old Hope, which continues to languish with respect to favourability and related indicators of political buoyancy in recent scientific polls.
Something else at play?
Scientific polls, albeit that they are snapshots in time, have found in recent years that a majority of Jamaicans support becoming a republic.
Consider these: “More than half of respondents in the latest Bill Johnson poll say Jamaica should not continue to have The Queen as head of State.
“The poll, commissioned by the Jamaica Observer, was conducted just about a month before the island marked its 58th anniversary of Independence.
“The poll was conducted on July 9 to 12, 2020, and used a sample size of 1,200 voting-age Jamaicans.”
Johnson reported that when his team asked people to say whether The Queen should continue to be Jamaica’s head of State or not 55 per cent of respondents said no, 30 per cent said yes, while 15 per cent said they don’t know.
The results reiterate a widely popular view often echoed by politicians but which has so far plodded through the legislature.
In fact, the closest the issue has come to discussion in Parliament was in 2016 when the newly elected Andrew Holness-led Government included a proposal to make Jamaica a republic in its 2016-17 legislative agenda.
On August 8, 2022 The Gleaner reported among other things: “Just over half of Jamaicans, or 56 per cent, want the country to remove The Queen as head of state, an RJRGleaner Don Anderson poll has found.”
In 2022 an announcement that Jamaica had begun the process that could remove The Queen as head of state by 2025 was greeted with a chorus of approval by a wide cross section of individuals. Clearly favourable public sentiment is on the side of the governing Holness Administration with regards to the matter of Jamaica becoming a republic.
If my political calculus is right — and I believe it is — the fear that the Administration will get huge political mileage from Jamaica becoming a republic might well be the real reason that the Opposition has introduced what Malahoo Forte has called twining.
I believe political expediency and not genuine principle is the more plausible explanation for Golding’s refusal to name members to sit on the Constitutional Reform Committee. Let me illustrate with a bit of relevant political history:
Recall that Jamaica’s black, green and gold — not yellow — flag was unfurled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 21, 1962. File photos show Sir Alexander Bustamante, the then prime minister, bubbling with joy at the event. It was Sir Alexander Bustamante who took Jamaica into Independence and he became the first prime minister of independent Jamaica. One does not need to be a rocket science to figure that the PNP does not want the JLP to “fus dem again”, as we say in local parlance.
I believe this mortal political fear also explains the PNP’s reluctance to participate in a referendum on other key constitutional reform issues.
Again, history is instructive here. Recall there was a tug-o-war between the JLP and the PNP as to whether Jamaica rightly belonged in the West Indies Federation. A referendum was held to decide the matter. Jamaicans voted against the West Indies Federation on September 19, 1961. Since that referendum defeat the PNP has been scared of anything to be decided by that method.
I do not believe that the Holness Administration should delay moving the country forward because the PNP continues to insist that it must be first in the political kingdom, notwithstanding that it was rejected by the people in the last two general elections. Consequently, I was very glad to see this headline: ‘Gov’t to move with speed toward republic’ (The Gleaner, January 17, 2023). The news item said, among things: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness has given instructions to Marlene Malahoo Forte, minister of legal and constitutional affairs, to proceed with ‘speed’ towards transforming Jamaica into a republic.
” ‘It is time that Jamaica becomes a republic. For us, the process is not simple, and we have known this since we started on this journey. And we are making sure that we check every box as we move deliberately in that regard,’ Holness said.”
CCJ, not yet!
There was a time when the majority of Jamaicans did not support becoming a republic. Over many years that equation shifted as our people evolved. I believe a similar process of political evolution should be allowed with regard to Jamaica and considerations of the CCJ becoming our final appellate court. As that process of evolution takes places we should also consider having our final appellate court in Jamaica. Some contend that the CCJ is ultimately about bringing an end to loitering on the doorsteps of our former colonial masters. Well, why not go the whole way and have our own final appellate court right here on Jamaican soil.
Valerie Neita-Robertson, KC, one of Jamaica’s finest legal minds, in a very percipient letter in this newspaper on April 26, 2022, cautions that: “We must be careful that, as Jamaica moves towards the abolition of the Privy Council, this is based on the trust and confidence we have in the CCJ to deliver justice and not upon any benefit or advantage to any political position or to advancing a particular Government for political reasons. We need to be confident that our political disputes are not going to be adjudicated within our region by people who are influenced by the cultural peculiarities and social and class biases which so affect us in our small space, as those are not considerations which should affect or even determine justice.
“In the small societies in which we live and operate, it is a fact that cultural, social, and political biases exist. We, as a country and a region, have not been successful in cauterising classism, social biases, etc, and we cannot deny our reluctance to offend politicians who hold the reins of government. Too often there is an unwillingness to strike down the conduct of those who hold high offices and wield political power.”
We would do well to heed her erudite warnings.
I think we should spend our time and resources and fix our court systems so that they can operate consistently at the efficiency levels of First World standards. When we have done so, by all means leave the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
No powder puffs for criminals
I have long advanced the view in this space that I do not believe that social powder puffs, or forms of emotional embrace, will soothe or silence the ravenous monsters among us whose vocation is rape, robbery, murder, and other heinous acts. Those who are wedded to criminal mayhem must be hunted, captured, and put before the courts. And that those who attack State personnel, so as to endanger their lives and/or the lives of other law-abiding citizens, must not be treated with kid gloves, since it is a matter of us or the criminals. I stand by that.
I make no secret that I was happy to see this headline: ‘Cabinet to sign off on harsher penalties for murder on Monday’ (The Gleaner, January 15, 2023) The news item said, among other things: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Cabinet is expected on Monday to finalise proposals to make the death penalty the automatic punishment for capital murder and 45 years’ imprisonment the minimum sentence for other homicides.”
I believe those who unceasingly campaign to make Jamaica safe for criminals must not be allowed to derail the most critical function of the State — the promotion of happiness and the preservation of life by vigorously guarding against attacks by internal and external predators.
We must constantly have the criminals on the run. For donkey’s years the criminals have had us on the run. While we strive to increase the certainly or them being caught, I believe we must simultaneously strive to increase the certainty of hardened and vicious criminals serving time in prison proportional to their crime. They must also pay the ultimate price as required by law.
Incidentally, last Tuesday, prominent attorney, Peter Champagnie, KC, another superb legal mind, said on a radio that the CCJ frowns on minimum mandatory sentences. Are your antennae up yet?
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.