Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson yesterday issued an appeal to the current chief executive Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding to jointly work at having Jamaica sever colonial ties with Britain next year when the island marks its 60th anniversary of political independence.
Patterson, who served as the country's sixth prime minister from 1992 to 2006 and is one of the most respected voices in Caricom, as well as the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, made the appeal in a letter addressed to both Holness and Golding, pointing out that they have the political authority and opportunity to capture a truly historic landmark.
“It is repulsive to contemplate a Diamond Jubilee where our constitution rests on an Order in Council dated 23rd July, 1962 and a head of state who does not reflect our own image and enables every Jamaican to aspire in reaching the highest position within our native land,” Patterson stated.
He pointed out that Jamaica has been actively engaged in discussion about moving towards a republican system for some time before the country marked its 40th anniversary of independence.
Since then, he said, both Holness's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Golding's People's National Party (PNP) have repeatedly accepted the institution of our own indigenous president as head of state, and this has been reflected in the election manifestos of both political parties since 2002.
“Successive prime ministers have reiterated that firm intention at their inaugural installations and also reaffirmed their policy positions in numerous throne speeches from the dawn of this millennium,” Patterson wrote.
He pointed out that both parties have fully accepted that the new head of state would be ceremonial in function, except for such powers as are expressly granted by the legislature, as has been done for governors general since Sir Florizel Glasspole was entrusted with special duties on the advent of the Electoral Advisory Committee.
The elder statesman said that, based on the work and reports of previous commissions and parliamentary committees, the single outstanding issue is whether the incumbent should be chosen by a two-thirds membership of both Houses of Parliament sitting separately or jointly.
“One early Vale Royal meeting between you both could easily settle that,” Patterson said, pointing out that it was for such a purpose that the Vale Royal meetings were conceived, and that he and now late former Prime Minister Edward Seaga used those meetings to discuss this issue and others demanding national consensus.
He pointed out that the requirements to amend deeply entrenched provisions of the constitution would, according to Section 49, need a period of three months between the introduction of the Bill and the commencement of the first debate on the whole text of the Bill, and a further period of three months between the conclusion of that debate and its passage.
Thereafter, according to Section 49(ii), the Bill has to be submitted not less than two months nor more than six months after its passage through both Houses to the electorate.
“This means a referendum,” Patterson said.
“It would be a spectacular contribution to building our parliamentary democracy; permitting both parties to share a single platform to secure national approval and allow one of our own image to become head of state,” Patterson said. “That would inspire the fullest confidence in ourselves.”
He said, while he appreciates that the nation is facing a range of challenges, among them COVID-19, crime, climate change, corruption, et al, he sincerely believes that the solution to these and other problems requires unity of purpose and action transcending political borders.
“I dare to suggest that a powerful symbol of combined will, when Government and Opposition are seen to act together, would be transmitted to our entire population. It would demonstrate our determination to act together in concert by making the long-overdue constitutional change as we promote our common identity and make our national motto — 'Out of many, one people' — a more meaningful reality,” said Patterson.
Noting that the country's legal draughtsmen have a heavy workload of pending legislation, the former prime minister said he was confident that there a number of able retired professionals who can be mobilised to volunteer their expertise in the legislative work required to make Jamaica's 60th anniversary a truly memorable milestone.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be the last to sever our colonial vestiges,” Patterson said. “The time is long due to seek yonder horizon during the year of our Diamond Jubilee.”
Patterson's appeal comes amidst fresh debate about Jamaica cutting colonial ties with England triggered by Barbados declaring itself a republic on Tuesday night, ending Britain's centuries of influence, including more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.