On August 6, 2022 Jamaica will celebrate 60 years of Independence from Great Britain.
The celebration of a diamond jubilee should come as a great moment in the life of a people, yet we cannot escape the haunting reality that after 60 years we are not truly politically independent. We now have control over our political life, but it cannot be lost, even on the least discerning among us, that we still suffer the humiliation of having The Queen as the titular head of State.
In fact, she and her successors are still firmly entrenched in the Jamaica Constitution, a perch from which they have not been dislodged by a people who should be proudly independent at age 60. One wonders if the majority of the people have the appetite to so dislodge her and whether, at the end of the next 60 years, we may not be still nursing this disgrace.
What is the full import of this constitutional arrangement? There are those who argue that The Queen is a mere figurehead whose representative performs a ceremonial role in the life of the country. But is this so? Consider that after 60 years Jamaica does not have its own, independent appellate jurisdiction. In fact, when the country's parliamentarians pass laws they cannot become effective until they are signed by The Queen's representative in the country, the governor general.
By the way, why is it that for the past 60 years, especially with all the talk about the strides our women have made, not one has been named to that prestigious post? There have been, and still are, many of our women who would merit that appointment.
Even when the Bill has been signed into law, any final outcome of an appeal is not decided in Jamaica but in Britain by The Queen's law lords on the Privy Council. The Jamaica Court of Appeal acts as a mere rubber stamp in sending cases they determine to the Privy Council, but the body has no say in the final determination of that appeal unless the matter is kicked back to them by the Privy Council. This hold over Jamaican jurisprudence does not look too ceremonial to me. It drives a dagger into the very heart of the dignity that should be reposed in a country's justice system.
So there are urgent matters of constitutional reform that demand our attention, no matter the cry of those who believe that Jamaicans are more interested in "eating a food" than removing the vestiges of our colonial past that continue to hobble our self-respect as a people. What those who take the eat a food position do not readily admit is that, if we had serious constitutional reform, which would radically affect how we govern ourselves, more people would do more than just eat a food; they would strive to live more sustainable lives in their beloved country.
We will kick, prance, and have a good time as we must on this 60th anniversary, but the haunting reality will remain that we are not yet fully independent. We must eschew this veneer of Independence and crave the respectability which the country truly deserves.
Now that I have got that gripe out of the way, it has not been all gloom and doom for the country these 60 years. We have made tremendous strides in some areas and fallen behind abysmally in others.
On the negative side of the ledger, crime continues to be an existential threat. Murderous criminality, with the gun as the weapon of choice, is particularly worrying. But, as I have noted in this space before, the large majority of the Jamaican people are law-abiding. They just want to get on with their lives with minimum intrusion from an overbearing Government acting as an obstacle in their path to progress. Without the strength of any personal investigative report, I would wager that it is less than five per cent of the population, and largely young men, who are engaged in the murderous criminality of the order we see in Jamaica.
If this is correct, then the large majority should have no doubt as to its role in subduing this criminal minority. The police by themselves cannot do it. It takes an engaged citizenry to bring the fight to the criminals, to expose wrongdoing when they know of it, wherever it resides among the elites in society or lower down on the totem pole. Let us get outside help, especially in the area of intelligence gathering if we have to, but ultimately, we get the kind of society that we want to build. Griping about what the Government is or is not doing without a willingness to be personally engaged in the fight will not move the dial too far to a murder-free society.
For its size, Jamaica has done well on the international stage. Tourists continue to flock to the country not only to enjoy its cuisine and natural beauty but also to bask in the hospitality of its people, which is legendary. Despite the small criminal minority's attempt to sully the country's reputation, this has not deterred people from coming in droves. They know almost instinctively that this minority does not represent the real Jamaica. In Jamaica, most feel safe and know that when they come they will enjoy a darn good time.
In music, sports, and literature we are known across the globe.
After years of grave political tribal divisions we have managed to come up with an electoral arrangement which is the envy of free societies trying to protect their democratic space. This is one legacy we can bequeath to the world, and little Jamaica has been sought out by others to assist them in their own aspirations to free and fair elections.
Jamaica ranks, I believe, in the top 10 as a country in which press freedom is respected and upheld. As a writer and public commentator I have been able to write scathing articles about successive governments without having to suffer any pain of incarceration for my views from any political directorate. Try that in Vladimir Putin's Russia or Xi Jinping's China.
Tribal elements from the major political parties have ranted and snorted about issues on which they disagree, but by and large there has not been any attempt at physical violence or open threats to dissuade anyone from his or her position. If there is anything we need to be proud of as an independent nation, it is the cultivation and preservation of a free press. Any aspect of this that can be strengthened will have to be attended to over the next 60 years. Our freedoms, rights, and democratic way of life depend upon it. We lose them when we take them for granted.
A sad part of our journey over these 60 years is the mess we have made of our economic arrangements. We started off on a strong footing in the first decade after Independence. Even sleepy, backwater countries, like Singapore, during that decade were mesmerised by Jamaica's economic prowess, as was admitted by its former president, Lee Kuan Yew, on a visit to the island. Factories were being opened and there were all kinds of development taking place across the country at a clip.
The two decades after the 1970s is a lesson about how poisoned politics combined with heavy borrowing and reckless spending can cauterise the economic future of a country. A lot has been written about this, but there seems to be an emerging consensus, buttressed by present government policy, that heavy borrowing is an albatross around the neck of a growing economy. Furthermore, more people seem to be convinced that fiscal prudence combined with careful spending and allocation of resources make a lot of difference in creating the strong economy we crave. We should never return to a time when we allow deficits to run or borrow recklessly to guarantee political advantage to any political party.
The past 60 years has sometimes seen us on a tumultuous journey. On balance, we are a people striving to make our mark on the world despite our size. We are experiencing difficult times now as we dig ourselves out of the worst pandemic to have hit the world in the last 100 years. But whatever the exogenous shocks we face, our destiny is in our own hands. Each one of us must resolve to work hard to respect human life, uphold human dignity, and cultivate a vibrant work ethic that will move us forward as a productive nation.
These sentiments relate not only to those living on the rock but also to a Diaspora that is infused with patriotic love and loyalty for a country that gave so much to so many. It is in our hands to create the vibrant and secure future we crave. Are we up to the task? I believe we are. Happy birthday, Jamaica.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm, Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life, and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.