Time for retiring The Queen has long passedWednesday, December 08, 2021
It took 'little' Barbados (if the Barbadians will forgive the sentiment) to force 'big' Jamaica to seriously consider removing The Queen as head of State.
Barbados must be congratulated for taking this step and for awakening the consciences of other recalcitrant nations, especially in the Caribbean, to the understanding that this is what a people's dignity and self-esteem demand. Once again we see that decisions like this are not about size, but the strength of ideas regarding national sovereignty and a desire to no longer walk on the path of hypocrisy.
Some will tell me that we have been considering this matter for a long time, but so has Barbados. It took a forthright and no-nonsense prime minister, Mia Mottley, to act where her predecessors failed. If she had not acted on her promise to retire The Queen, nothing would have changed and the status quo of the British monarchy in Barbados would have remained. One can be sure that, if Prime Minister Mottley had not acted, we would not be having the robust discussion that has erupted in Jamaica concerning the matter. This solidifies the shame that we should feel.
But, as they say, it is better late than never. What has bedevilled us in this country is that we are long on chat and analysis but very short on implementation. As one former ambassador of the USA to Jamaica once cogently noted, we are good at applauding announcements but very poor at bringing these to fruition. This has been the bane of the discussions regarding the termination of The Queen as the country's head of State.
If there was ever a time when Jamaicans felt that this relationship would have ended, it was during the prime ministership of Michael Manley. No one then, and even now, showed the passion that he did as he fulminated against imperialism and colonialism, rightly encouraged a spirit of self-reliance in the country, and gave Jamaicans a strong sense of what a small country could be on the world stage. If anyone was going to retire The Queen, he would have been the person to do it. I believe at one point he said that when he took the oath to The Queen, he could not mean it.
Yet, in his two terms as Jamaica's prime minister he took the oath, and one can be sure that little would have changed if he had gone on to a third term. Again, the implementation disease born of inaction and lethargy had set in.
After him, other prime ministers have spoken eloquently on the subject. P J Patterson, Manley's successor, took the oath, I believe, four times; Golding, one; Portia Simpson Miller, twice; and Holness, so far, three times. You see what I mean when I speak about inaction and lethargy, and one could add hypocrisy.
Almost every political manifesto since Independence has had some rendition, some more precise than others, about ending the monarchy in Jamaica. It is at the top of any mention of constitutional reform. Yet none of the parties making these pronouncements have had the Mottley mettle to do as they promised.
They know that Jamaicans do not pay keen attention to political manifestos. They also know that constitutional reform will always be trumped (oops!) by bread-and-butter issues so they can mention it as icing on a wedding cake when they are courting the people's vote, but neglect to put it on while in power as people care more about eating the cake.
Undoubtedly, the exigencies that have weighed on the economy since Independence have provided the perfect cover for the lack of pursuit of constitutional reform. Over those years we have lurched from one economic crisis to the next.
Now, with the existential threat posed by COVID-19, there are many who will argue that constitutional reform is of no moment. “Man haffi eat a food,” the argument runs, not realising that the extent to which one is able to eat that food is heavily determined by the governance structure in operation at any given time.
We must educate our people to see the correlation between good Government and their economic well-being. Important decisions regarding our national sovereignty, which are well overdue, cannot await us getting our economy in top shape, especially when these matters intersect at important levels. We will just have to learn to walk between the raindrops.
One hopes that both sides of the political fence will see constitutional reform as a national project and not allow it to get lost in a political quagmire of posturing and political one-upmanship. The suggestion that this matter should be concluded by the time of our 60th Independence anniversary next year is an eminent one. This is a good gift that we could give ourselves. Let the robust discussion begin.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.