The Government is staunchly defending its preference for a ceremonial head of State as it ploughs through the first phase of constitutional reform towards Jamaica severing ties with the British monarchy.
Speaking with editors and reporters at the Jamaica Observer's Monday Exchange this week, Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Legal Reform Marlene Malahoo Forte pointed out that the consensus so far is that the office of the president should be the formal head of State, separate from the political head of Government. This means the office of president would essentially be vested with executive powers similar to those reposed in the governor general.
The minister was joined by members of the Constitutional Reform Committee to include civil society representative Dr Nadene Spence and consultant counsel and Opposition nominee veteran attorney Hugh Small. The committee is providing expert guidance and oversight to the Government in the constitutional reform process and oversee the implementation of recommendations on which consensus has been reached.
Small noted that the question of having an executive president has been a divisive issue in the past and would be even more polarising in the current political environment.
"So if we are determined that we want to have a Jamaican head of State and become a republic, we have to go to a model that is not going to divide the people. There is no chance of a snowball in hell that we're going to get approval by the Jamaican people for the creation of an executive president, and if we try to do that it means that we would have to revamp the whole constitution. We know what the history is, and among the things we have learnt is the bases on which both sides of Parliament can come together and agree on controversial issues, so why go back and spurn that history, it doesn't make sense," he argued.
Pointing out that none of the models of democratic leadership are without challenges, Dr Spence stressed that the Jamaican democracy is stable.
"A country and a people will decide, this is the one we are going to use, not second best, but this is the one that suits our culture and our people the best. I believe in systems of democracy and different systems purport different ways to do that. The other people who have direct election of a president, do they offer a better quality democracy than ours? Electing a president directly doesn't guarantee a better quality of democracy. There are pros and cons to both sides," she insisted.
Malahoo Forte added, "Change can be disturbing and you have to deliver change at a rate that people can absorb, otherwise you can run your system into chaos. So even while we clamour for change and we agree that change is necessary, we also have to test the temperature of the water. Jamaica has enjoyed stability in its democracy that is envied by many. In assessing the change it would be highly irresponsible if we didn't take into account those things that contribute to the stability of our democracy in spite of the many challenges that we have."
In the meantime, the representatives of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) on the Constitutional Reform Committee, Senator Donna Scott-Mottley and Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton, on Monday expressed support for the proposed method of appointment of the president as head of State for a Jamaican republic.
In a statement, Hylton and Scott-Mottley noted that there were further details which remained unresolved within the committee, including the way the vote should be taken in Parliament.
They emphasised that the PNP's position is that the vote should be taken in a manner which reflects the present constitutional arrangements, that is, two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the members of the Senate.
Another point of consensus among the members of the committee so far, based on the ongoing canvassing of views, is that Jamaican citizenship should be the qualifier to sit in Parliament under a reformed constitution. This is distinct from being a Commonwealth citizen, as now obtains.
Malahoo Forte said specifics such as whether individuals must be Jamaican-born or naturalised citizens have not yet been determined. "The accident of birth for Jamaican-ness shouldn't disqualify [an individual] ... it's one of the issues we have raised. We recognise that Jamaica is a global community of people and Jamaicans who go abroad still have a passion for Jamaica and still want to contribute, so the question is: What should disqualify you?" she explained, pointing to some of the factors being discussed, such as dual citizenship.
The minister emphasised that in its examination of the body of work already done towards constitutional reform the committee takes into account the views of the society. "Every deliberation is taking place within the context of our awareness of the issues in Jamaica. So it's not a done deal that what is being put to the people is what we have already decided on," she made clear.