NEGRIL, Westmoreland — Convinced that a referendum on removing the British monarchy as Jamaica's head of State will have to be independent of the next local government election, Opposition Leader Mark Golding says the additional cost of staging two separate votes will be worth it.
The elections are constitutionally due no later than February 2022 and there have been calls for Jamaica to become a republic that same year, as it celebrates its 60th year as an independent country.
“The referendum will have to follow the legislation being passed through Parliament, which is a process of at least six months, so I don't think the two can be married. But look, Jamaica truly becoming independent is something that is significant and it is worth us investing in the referendum process,” said Golding.
“At the end of the day it is worth making that investment so that we can achieve that landmark, and I don't think that would be money unwisely used. I think it is important that we do this when we have the momentum and can agree around the issues,” the Opposition leader added.
Based on past estimates provided by the Electoral Office of Jamaica, it could cost taxpayers less than $1 billion if both votes are combined, a price tag that shoots up to more than $2 billion if they are held separately.
In its estimates of expenditure for the 2020-2021 budget cycle, the Government last year allotted $2.4 billion for the staging of the September General Election and the local polls which were originally due in November. The municipal elections were later postponed because of the novel coronavirus. As the February 2022 deadline nears, and on the heels of Barbados's November 29 severing of ties with The Queen, questions have been raised about the timeline for both votes.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer last week, Golding noted that successive governments have always been reluctant to call a referendum.
“[They] have always been hesitant to have a referendum because of what happened in 1961 with the federation referendum and also other referendums that have taken place in the region,” he said.
The need, now, he said, is for both major political parties to build on the progress made in the 1990s when there were in-depth discussions and positions agreed upon between then Prime Minister PJ Patterson and then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga.
He has made an attempt, he said, to engage Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a discussion on the issue.
“I called him last week Thursday to say let us meet to discuss things around this. He told me that he would write a letter and would expedite the letter and then we could meet. I haven't received the letter. A week has passed and I haven't heard from him,” said Golding.
Three weeks ago, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told the Jamaica Observer that Holness had given instructions for the constitution to be amended. She said a document is currently being prepared, and by the end of the second quarter next year Jamaica's way forward to becoming a republic will be made known.
“He has given instructions to myself as attorney general and the minister of justice [Delroy Chuck] to immediately commence the work of advising on the work of reforming the constitution,” stated Malahoo Forte. “The work had actually commenced before and it is going to be done. It is going to be an involved process but I am happy that it will begin in earnest.”
She explained that an assessment is being done on different provisions in the constitution that require three different amendment processes.
“What is required at this stage is really a wholesale look at who we are as Jamaicans and what it is that we stand for, even as we look at the form of government that we have, who is our head of State. There are involved questions and… the matter will ultimately have to go to a referendum involving all of the people. So, I can say that everyone can stand by as timely information will come on how we will embark on the process and the issues that we will be addressing,” said Malahoo Forte.
The last major review of the constitution took place in 2010. At that time, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was amended.
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