What is the top priority of the Government of Jamaica? Is it tackling the monster of crime? Is it rebuilding the economy that has been ravaged by two years of COVID-19? Is it working with the financial sector which has been rocked by scandal as of late to ensure that Jamaicans can still trust that their savings are secure? Or maybe it's undertaking any one of the numerous problems existing in the health and education sectors?
Anyone who selected any or all the above-mentioned would be wrong. Instead, the Government's leading focus is to give the boot to King Charles III and replace him with a president of its choosing. You read that right, its choosing. Or did you think that we the people would get to select a president for ourselves? Not at all. The Government has made it clear that they intend to mimic the model seen in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.
What is the rationale for such a move? They tell us that doing so would make us independent, that is the narrative that republicans have been spinning for decades now and it sounds reasonable to the ear of the uninitiated. But let us examine that claim for a moment. Will having a president make us more independent than we are now, and if so, how? For over 60 years we have been told that Jamaica is an independent nation, for the Government to now claim that a republic will complete our Independence is tantamount to an admission that they lied to us in 1962, that we did not become truly independent then.
Can the Jamaican people truly trust the word of the Government now, when it has all but admitted to not being truthful years ago? Or maybe it is the other way around, maybe the Government in 1962 was being honest about our Independence, which means the current Government is trying to pull the wool over our eyes now. I would propose that it is the latter.
We should not gloss over the linguistic games that the elites try to play by claiming that Jamaica is independent but our sovereignty is not complete. This notion is to be rejected as it is a logical impossibility. Both terms are interchangeable, which means that if we became independent in 1962, then we also gained sovereignty in 1962 and any suggestion to the contrary is a smokescreen to hoodwink the Jamaican people.
The record must be set straight. The truth is that the constitution we have now was drafted by a bipartisan committee made up of People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of the time, all Jamaicans. Not a single Englishman was allowed to sit on that committee, not even the colonial governor. And while it is true that the instrument was ratified by the Privy Council in London, that ratification was a rubber stamp and did not change a word of what our constitutional framers had already written. Some would suggest that even this formality would require the constitution to be repatriated.
This is admittedly a reasonable argument, but constitutional repatriation does not equal a republican form of Government. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all had their constitutions repatriated in the 1980s and none of them did so as a republic, that is a model we can safely emulate.
In remarks made in Montego Bay on January 14, 2023, Prime Minister Andrew Holness indicated that, "It is time that Jamaica becomes a republic." This echoed the sentiment made by his predecessor in 2012. There is an unspoken assumption by both major political parties that there is a time for a republic and, therefore, a move towards that direction is a move towards progress. This assumption has been filtered down to the rest of society. But where did this assertion come from that republicanism equals progress? Progress, to me, is anything that improves the livelihood of the people, giving them a chance to shape their own destiny. Unless one can prove to me beyond all reasonable doubt that replacing The King with a president is ultimately something that will improve the overall standard of living of the Jamaican people, then it, by and large, can only give the illusion of progress while leaving actual progress in the dust.
The truth is that there is not a single objective measure of development that makes a republic superior to a constitutional monarchy. Take one look at the statistics in the Human Development Index, immediately you will see that monarchies, such as Sweden and Australia, are just as easily ranked in the top 10 as republics, such as Switzerland and Germany. This alone should debunk the myth that a republic is any indicator of progress. Additionally, there is no proof whatsoever that a republic is somehow more democratic than a constitutional monarchy as some would assert. Such a notion is immediately discredited by the Democracy Index, which shows no difference between republics and monarchies in the top performers, yet the bottom ranks are dominated by countries that are republics.
The progressive nature of republicanism, which the elites try to sell us, is ultimately one made up in their heads and propagated to the rest of the population. But truth be told, the evidence to support this assumption is severely lacking. This is the reason those who support republicanism appeal to emotion instead by telling us that having a president will be a source of national pride and fulfil our aspirations.
I submit, however, that our leaders are less concerned with national pride and more concerned about their own egos. It is, in fact, not our aspiration that is of interest to them, but rather their own. This is patently evident in the obstructions put up by Opposition Leader Mark Golding to halt the Government's plans. Is Golding an ardent monarchist who is truly living up to his title as the leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition? Not at all, Golding is one of the firmest opponents of the Crown, a position he made quite clear when Prince William visited us to mark the late Queen's Platinum Jubilee and which he has reiterated upon King Charles III's accession. So what gives? Why is he stalling the very thing for which he himself has advocated? The answer is simple, he doesn't want Holness to get any bragging rights for it, he wants the credit for himself and any other argument put forward by the Opposition leader is to mask this desire.
This, of course, leads to another question: Why should we trust the current leaders of the PNP and JLP with the power to choose a head of State for us when they don't seem to be able to get their act together on this matter? And before anyone asks the unspoken question as to why we should trust King Charles III instead, let me point out that we really don't. Section 68 (1) of our constitution states, "The executive authority of Jamaica is vested in His Majesty," however, this is immediately followed up by Section 68 (2) which posits, "The executive authority of Jamaica may be exercised on behalf of His Majesty by the governor general (GG), either directly or through officers subordinate to him." Therefore, as we can clearly see, a home-grown Jamaican already has the constitutional mandate to exercise all the prerogatives of the Crown.
So what then is really the difference between a president and a GG? The difference is that a GG is truly neutral because the Crown itself is neutral, a corporation sole. The same cannot be said of a president who is beholden to one party or the other. In addition, an argument that should be gainsaid is the notion that the president represents the people while the GG represents The King. While it is true that the GG does indeed represent His Majesty (not the UK's Government as some falsely claim), it is arguably untrue that the president represents the people. In order for the president to represent the people, he/she must be elected by the people, but this is not what the Holness Government intends. Instead, the plan is to replicate what Prime Minister Mia Mottley did in Barbados by simply having a prime minister nominate a candidate then have Parliament rubber stamp it.
This is what they would have us believe is more democratic? This is what they would have us believe would bring national pride and complete what they call the "cycle of independence"? The barefaced duplicity of this argument should be clear to anyone who is paying close enough attention. So let me state the facts in no uncertain terms. Jamaica is already independent. Having a president won't raise our standing in the world because sovereignty is the highest one can go and we are already there. I am not naÃ¯ve enough make the claim that having a hereditary monarch or an appointed GG is egalitarian, but what I am saying is that anyone who has even a basic understanding of our system of government knows that this is the case, hence it is honest.
The same cannot be said about having a system in which a president is appointed by the prime minister and Parliament only for them to try and pass off their chosen candidate as the democratic choice of the people simply because we call him Mr President instead of Your Majesty. This is little more than a fabrication that we the Jamaican people must not allow the two-party duopoly to foist upon us and get away with.
Last year the prime minister told the royals to their face that Jamaica was moving on to fulfil its true destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country. I posit that we do not need a president or a republic to become any of these things, and the fact we have yet to reach that stage isn't an indictment on the part of The King or on The Late Queen, but rather it is the failing of our political ruling class who were elected to be our servants but too often behave as if they were our masters.
Jamaica's problems are many, but they are not insurmountable, they can be solved if we would just get our collective act together and prioritise the right things. Like our governor general, I too share the sentiment that there is nothing that is wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.