Op-Ed: Changing Jamaica’s Constitution


By Garnett Ankle
Op-Ed Contributor

At this point in her political career, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller may be thinking of her legacy. How will history judge her? She has an opportunity to make an indelible mark on the political landscape of the island nation. Prime Minister Simpson Miller could call for, and play an active role in constitutional reform. She could also revolutionize the ministries of government by reducing them to 11, as was suggested in my previous article for Caribbean Journal.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller is the second prime minister in Jamaica’s short history that was given a second chance to lead the nation. Before her, Mr. Michael Manley was returned as prime minister in 1989 after losing at the polls in 1980.

The Prime Minister should use her second chance to inspire and change the political culture of the nation. Jamaica is in deep social and economic straits. The nation needs an injection of local and foreign investments on a large scale never before seen in the country. To achieve this, I think, changes to Jamaica’s constitution are inevitable.

Jamaica is a democratic nation-state, but large-scale investors want more than that. They want to be assured that successive governments are predictable. They want to know that government policies will not change overnight.

While I believe constitutional reform would not be a panacea for Jamaica’s economic and social challenges, it would serve to ensure political stability in the island nation.

The Westminster Constitution has been abused by successive governments in Jamaica. Hence, the changes become necessary.

The constitutional changes proposed below are some of the many needed:

The dates of all elections in Jamaica – on all levels — should be set out in the constitution of Jamaica. No politician should be given the power to call any election. The duration of each term of government should also be placed in constitution.

All Senators should be chosen by the electorate. Reduce the number of Senators to twelve. Four senators would be chosen from each of the three counties, Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey. In the Senate, it would take nine “yes” votes to pass a Bill out of that legislative body.

Any Jamaican, whether or not they are a member of a political party would be eligible to run for the Senate in their respective counties providing they reside where they hope to represent the people. A Senator should not hold another political or Cabinet position. A minimum age limit of each candidate would be agreed upon.

The Senate would be the legislative body that confirms all the prime minister’s nominees for the various positions. It would take nine “yes” votes to confirm each of the Prime Minister’s nominees for any position.

The Senate would be charged with impeaching any political leader, including the Prime Minister, for high crimes against the nation. It would take 10 of the 12 senators voting “yes” to move forward with articles of impeachment against any politician.

Each of the 63 Members of Parliament should reside in the constituency they represent. No Member of Parliament should be appointed to a Cabinet position. No Member of Parliament would be allowed to hold any other political office.

The Prime Minister should have a residence in their constituency, but live at the official residence while in office.

The Cabinet should consist of 11 members, including the Prime Minister who would be the only elected person in that body. The Prime Minister would nominate the 10 other members from the general population. Each of the 10 Cabinet members would be appointed after approval of the Senate.

The names of each of the 11 ministries of government would be standardized. This means it would take huge majority votes in the House and Senate to have a change in any of the names of the ministries of government.

The names of all government agencies would also be standardized. It would take a huge majority of “yes” votes in both legislative bodies for name changes to become effective.

The nation’s Attorney General and Justice Minister should not hold political offices. They should not sit in the House of Representatives or the Senate. The Justice Minister would be a member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. The Prime Minister would be charged with nominating personnel for these positions. These personnel would come from the general population of Jamaica. These personnel would each take their respective positions after Senate approval.

The Prime Minister would nominate all judges for the various courts. The Senate would then vote to confirm them. The Prime Minister would also nominate all chairpersons to Boards of Directors and heads for the various government agencies. The Senate would later confirm each of them.

All government contracts would go to the Senate for final approval after they were approved by the office of the Contractor General.

In a democracy, majority rules, but the minority has rights. The above proposals would seek to ensure that every Jamaican citizen has a stake in the new Jamaica. The fight for political spoils between hostile tribes must end.

A voter who voted for the Jamaica Labour Party in last December’s Parliamentary elections must feel confident in knowing that, if a job is available, his political affiliation will not be a determining factor.

In 1964, Jamaica made Marcus Mosiah Garvey the nation’s first National Hero. In this the 50th year of the country’s political independence and the 125th anniversary of Garvey’s birth, let us honour him by starting the process of constitutional reform. That would go a far way in honouring the memory of the great Pan-Africanist.

There is hope for Jamaica. Her political leaders must lead with the entire population in mind. After all, it is the government of Jamaican, not the government of any political party.

Garnett Ankle is a radio broadcaster/talk show host on WESU Middletown 88.1 FM in Middletown, Connecticut.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.