Right to recall
The Piont Is...Sunday, November 16, 2014
There can be no doubt in our minds that a large number of Jamaicans have completely given up on politics. Day by day, the disease of voter apathy seems to engulf more and more of us as the voices of those opting not to vote are getting louder and louder. Whether we are willing to admit it or not this threatens the very core of our social order and I am now of the firm view that our democracy is on the brink of illegitimacy, with our political leaders on the verge of plunging into an abyss of irrelevance unless urgent and radical steps are taken to restore faith and confidence in our political system and to return power into the hands of the people.
The last election is testament enough. As a country we barely saw over 50 % of the electorate (53.17% to be exact) turning out to decide the faith of the next five years of our country. Our Government can only boast support just over 464, 000 Jamaicans of a voters list that contained 1.6 million people, while the Opposition was only able to garner just over 405, 000. At the Local Government level the problem is even graver with most councillors governing while only being able to get 15 per cent of the total electorate.
The reasons for this steady decline in voter participation are varied and probably could form the basis of an entire article. However, anecdotally, these two are the ones I have picked up most frequently as I have embarked on political service
THE PERCEPTION OF CORRUPTION
The view that our political leaders are corrupt is pervasive among almost all Jamaicans. Across the length and breadth of Jamaica so many citizens are of the firm view that politicians are only involved in politics for personal gratification. As one Rasta man an so colourfully said to me as we spoke by the Black River pier, "fyah, no disrespect but the I them only get inna it fi get rich... is a easy money system.. man wi all give up foreign life fi come do it, cause a the money sweet dem, anno love a country."
That is the perception, with surveys like Transparency International's Corruption Barometer 2013 finding that 85% of Jamaicans surveyed believe that political parties are affected by corruption, while the Latin America Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) in 2011, study directed by a United States-based academic institute found that 81 per cent of Jamaicans believe their politicians and other public officials are corrupt.
LACK OF REAL POWER
There is, however, another issue I have heard time and time again. This is the view that voters have very little control over the actions and inactions of their representative after they have secured victory at the polls. Voters often rue that they can do nothing to force the said representative to perform or be replaced. It is the view that pervades many a protest action, constituents out in the middle of our roads, loudly complaining about none performing representatives, making it known to everyone who has ears to hear that they were forced to resort to this sort of action as they felt they were left with no other choice.
In too many ways this democracy that we praise and subscribe to has given power to the people in a much too limited fashion. MPs are not mandated to consult on projects, there is no requirement for reports from MPs to their constituency and voters are forced to wait a full term to change an MP, even if a significant majority have formed the view long before the term is ended that the Member of Parliament is a none performer.
It is imperative that we start the process of regaining lost trust in politics by examining the core structures of our system, especially our Constitution and begin implementing measures that will empower the people.
It is in that vein that I believe our Parliament should urgently move to amend our constitution to include the right to recall our Members of Parliament.
RIGHT OF RECALL
Provisions enshrining the right to recall would allow constituents to remove Members of Parliament before the completion of a term of office. It is by no means a new idea in the Jamaican context, as the concept has been posited in various JLP documents regarding governance from the 1990s and the 2000s. It presently forms a part of the laws of a number of countries including Switzerland and Austria, over 36 states in the United States of America and most recently our Caribbean neighbour of Trinidad.
It is also noteworthy that on the 11th day of September, 2014, the David Cameron led British government introduced in the House of Commons the Right to Recall MPs Bill.
In Trinidad's Constitutional Amendment Bill which enshrines the right to recall, constituents can initiate recall provision after three years in office by filing a petition with the Elections and Boundaries Commission which is accompanied by signatures from 10 per cent of the constituency electorate. Once the petition is approved the constituents are given a 21 day period to vote on the petition and if two thirds of the electorate supports the petition then the MP is recalled and a bye election had. The process, however, cannot be started after the MP has spent four years in office.
In Britian, in what Prime Minister Cameron has called the minimum acceptable level, parliamentarians would only be recalled if convicted of a criminal offence for which the sentence is less than 12 months in prison, or if suspended from the House of Commons for over 21 days. The recall procedure has to be supported by 10 per cent of the constituency electorate and is subject to the decision of a committee of MPs. The provisions have, however, drawn harsh criticism for not going far enough to ensure that the people control the process.
It is time for us to develop, embrace and implement a system of recall. Clearly it has to be so designed to ensure that it cannot be manipulated by the political parties, while still ensuring that people do have a realistic opportunity to change a non performing MP.
The system developed by Trinidad is worthy of exploration, and I can see a body such as our ECJ playing a strong role in the monitoring of our recall process.
I am opposed to the concept that recall only be limited to criminal breaches as our standards for political representatives must be higher. The right to recall must be there as a tool of oversight and accountability for none performing MPS.
For me the right to recall should flow with democracy, representatives must remain accountable to those who elected them and voters should be able to terminate the mandate of a representative before the end of term, if they are not living up to the people's expectations.
Floyd Green is an attorney-at-law, the JLP's constituency caretaker for South West St Elizabeth and president of the JLP affiliated Generation 2000 (G2K) organization.