Tread carefully when making constitutional changes
King Charles III

On May 6, the coronation of King Charles III took place. It was the first coronation of a British monarch in 70 years.

For the last 368 years, the monarch of the United Kingdom has had a messy relationship with Jamaica at best and a dreadful one at worst. During the majority of that time, black people were oppressed and forced to work as slaves for the benefit of the planter class and, by extension, the royal family. For the last 60 years, Jamaica has been politically independent, but the real question to ask is if we truly are in a multifaceted way.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has begun the initial phase of constitutional reform, which focuses on the deeply entrenched provisions and the removal of King Charles III, similar to what Barbados did in 2021. However, I have some concerns. For the last few months, there has been much deliberation about what other parts of the constitution should be modified. For example, the debate about what kind of president we should have seems to be of the most contentious nature. While this is important, we must take other factors into consideration, such as making sure this process doesn't become a long drawn-out quagmire of differing yet mostly inconsequential preferences to ensure limitations on government power are not undermined in changes and ensuring a more transparent, flexible system that's backed by accountability. I think it's fair to say the majority of Jamaicans are interested in undertaking this process.

I'm in agreement with the removal of Charles III. I don't believe a man who is the direct descendant of our ancestors' oppressors, who also happens to live over 7,500 kilometres away, should be our head of State. Furthermore, the royal family barely shares any cultural alignment with current-day Jamaica and nothing tangible is gained from the Crown to drive sustainable development throughout our nation.

I applaud the Government for going down this path and taking this consequential step. However, I can't shake the thought that this process may be prolonged. Many individuals and parties across the nation and diaspora are demanding huge modifications be made.

One of which is the sticking point regarding a ceremonial or executive president. For those who may not know, an executive president is a head of State that is elected and forms his own Cabinet. He is also the head of the Government and runs the nation on a day-to-day basis, an example can be seen in the United States. Otherwise, a ceremonial president is the head of State but not of the Government and is tasked with reserve powers in the event of a major crisis. This can be seen in the role of the governor general.

Both have their benefits and drawbacks, but with Jamaica having a Parliament of elected members, an executive president could run the risk of the Opposition party forming a majority, which could cause excessive gridlock and block the head of Government from completing his mandate. This can be seen in the United States, with Republicans having a majority in the House while the president is a Democrat. However, some would not see this as an issue and I don't necessarily blame them, but I'm not sure if anything would get done in a country that is already known for being slow if that were the case.

Although we must ensure the process doesn't get drawn out, we have to make sure limitations on power don't get undermined during the reformation. Our current constitution allows for checks, balances, and limits on the power of not only the prime minister but his Cabinet and other members of the governing party.

However, there seems to be a legitimate fear that, with this proposed constitutional reform, there may be an attempt to grab additional power and, therefore, subvert our democracy. I trust that, with the rounds the constitutional reform committee has been making on the island, they've at least heard some of this sentiment. We have to ensure structural checks are not modified to a significant degree or else this could sow distrust throughout the various civic groups and the society at large. For example, one of the major factors that can stop the Government from participating in overreach is the guaranteed count of eight Opposition senators. This 38 per cent which the Opposition senators make up is an automatic stop loss. Of course, this can be abused and be used blindly as plain obstructionism, but it is important these limits are in place to maintain our democracy, no matter the Administration in power. As a result, I'm of the view that we should keep the make-up of the senate and most bodies the same; however, this does not mean improvements to various facets in Jamaica's charter cannot be made.

The last 60 years in Jamaica has been, arguably, a bumpy ride. This is due to the lack of accountability on a structural level — from misappropriated funds and leaders overstaying their welcome whilst drowning in complacency to people not being held liable for their actions and individuals not having outright control over their assets. As stated above, in order for Jamaica to be a prosperous republic we will need to have a nation that is flexible and transparent, underpinned by accountability. It's the only way we can truly move forward and unlock our full potential as the diamond of the West Indies.

I propose we institute fixed elections and term limits on mainly prime ministers and ministers so new generations can have a chance at governing and bringing fresh ideas. Many times we hear the same concepts being recommended from decades ago while new ones are ignored or written off. Younger leaders could be at the helm whilst being guided by older counterparts. However, this is not me saying that every decision-maker should be young but for inclusion of younger generations to be embraced. We can't strictly have sexagenarians and septuagenarians making decisions that will affect the population for decades to come. This is almost similar to having a 74-year-old man, far removed from us physically and culturally, as our unelected head of State.

Another sticking point for me is that, under our current land law, the Crown owns all the land in Jamaica and all title holders are just seen as freehold tenants of his land. Even treasures — commodities reaped from the land, such as potential gold or oil — are rightfully The King's property.

I suggest, when we remove The King, the Government does not take his place but instead all the powers be given to the individual title holders of the land. Jamaica is a democratic country with a free market system, as such, I believe individuals should truly own a piece of the land and enjoy its spoils, and I think most would agree.

For added flexibility, the prime minister should have no limit on how many senators he wishes to serve in his Cabinet. This will create a wider pool from which to choose, thus improving the productivity of the central government. The Government has also taken some steps in recent years, such as the impeachment clause of 2021, I hope it is used, if necessary, in the future. This will help strengthen the people's trust of the State and ameliorate current voter apathy.

Due to the past 350 plus years of torment and discrimination, Jamaica should remove the British monarch as its head of State. However, at the same time, we must tread carefully. The final decisions that are made could be greatly beneficial or could reap unintended consequences. We must also ensure the process does not get drawn out as this would burn money and time, while also risking the chance of the public losing interest, thus increasing the probability of the referendum failing.

My recommendation is that we focus on just changing the head of State and leave most things the way they already are, because, if we don't, we could run the risk of further dividing the nation and causing a self-inflicted wound.

Malik Smith is a realtor associate. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

Malik Smith

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