The facts are inescapably clear that Jamaica has long been in need of constitutional and other legal reforms. However, the recent reshuffling of the Cabinet by Prime Minister Andrew Holness has seen the pouring of new wine into many dirty vessels. The latest addition to this conundrum is the creation of the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs to be headed by former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte.
Now, it is important for us to note that the areas of focus of this new ministry are not new. Minister Malahoo Forte is to have direct oversight of the Law Revision Secretariat, the Legal Reform Department, and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, all portfolios formerly existing within the Ministry of Justice.
The work needed to be done in these reassigned areas was not too onerous to the extent that they were unattainable under the Ministry of Justice. Thus, what we now have happening is the unnecessary creation of a ministry which will invariably lead to a waste of resources and public funds. It is full time that our existing structures become efficient.
If it is that the ministry is unnecessary for the work it is tasked with accomplishing, it is safe to say that there could very well be an ulterior motive for its creation.
One must understand that the binding fabric of a democratic society such as Jamaica is its constitution. The prime minister is a three-time constitutional offender. The first strike was the presigned resignation letters of members of his party; the second was the temporary appointment of the chief justice amidst much outcry from the public and members of the judiciary; and strike three was his insistence to push ahead with an unconstitutional National Identification and Registration Act — popularly referred to as the national identification system (NIDS). Paramount to the conversation at hand is that the last two offences were committed or at the very least ought to be reasonably presumed to have been committed upon the advice of the former Attorney General.
One will recall that the decision of the Supreme Court in the NIDS ruling did not sit well with the former Attorney General who, in her sectoral presentation that year, made certain remarks that were potentially contemptuous.
As guardian of the constitution, the court needs to be vigilant of this ministry as it may very well be a means to an undesirable end, rather than what it purports to be. The work is necessary, but the ministry is not.
Even in light of this, one may be willing to look past its creation but for the poor track record of the person who heads it and, in the very area, as its name suggests, of constitutional affairs.
Replaced as attorney general but set to lead legal reform and, constitutional affairs? It is a question to which history holds the obvious answer, but one that time will have to re-evaluate.