Independent senators may be undemocratic
The Jamaican Senate comprises 21 members. (Photo: Karl McLarty)

Dear Editor,

It is quite easy to be seduced by the idea of the independent senator who is not bound by party politics to make decisions in the best interest of Jamaica.

I can already read into the suggestion the image of the erudite scholar or the benevolent patriot who only means his country and people well by being a part of conversations and decision-making that shape the country's future. However, such fanciful notions should be interrogated and questioned because of the insidious dangers they may pose.

It is important for us to be reminded that, within our constitutional arrangements, senators are appointed by the governor general on the advice of either the prime minister or Leader of the Opposition. The Senate is carefully balanced between 13 government senators and eight Opposition senators to ensure that major changes to the constitution have bipartisan support. The question becomes: If there were independent senators, on whose advice and on what basis would they be appointed? Whose duty would it be to ensure that they were, in fact, independent and stayed independent? Would a separate body altogether have to be established for their appointment? And who would comprise that body?

To reduce all my questions to a simple query: To whom would these independent senators be accountable? The easy (and lazy) answer would be the people, except that's not what our constitution says. It was made painfully clear after the undated Senate letters fiasco by the Constitutional Court that senators have security of tenure. Once they are appointed, they sit in their seat until it has been properly constitutionally vacated; meaning, they have to resign or be determined to be no longer capable of fulfilling their duties. There is no opportunity for the people to hold any independent senator accountable for the four to five years that Parliament subsists, and who knows what damage a rogue senator could facilitate if he or she were not being held to account.

The truth is that, though our current framework is not perfect and has inherent partisan problems, there is a clear path of accountability. One's actions or inactions as a senator may impact their position in the political party that they are openly a part of and whose ideals they can't readily resile themselves from without some consequences. A free agent (or an independent senator) is accountable only to the ideals he or she openly professes or secretly harbours and the associations he or she keeps.

I think, rather than chasing the fallacy of independence in a world where everything is politicised, we should set minimum standards for those who are to be appointed senators to ensure that the Upper House fulfils the ideals of elevated discourse on issues of national import.

Glenroy Murray

Executive director

Equality for All Foundation Jamaica Limited

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