Have we abandoned constitutional reform?

Letters to the Editor

Have we abandoned constitutional reform?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

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Dear Editor,
The commencement of a new year with the prospect of a general election approaching makes it difficult not to conclude that our leaders have abandoned all proposals for constitutional reform. They have certainly been silent on the subject. This is unfortunate because there are a number of important proposals which have been discussed, reconsidered and promised.

These proposals for constitutional reform include:

1. abolishing the monarchical constitutional form and substituting a republican form. This change would not only affirm our national identity but save us from the prospect of having as our sovereign at some future date a person for whom there is not the same measure of respect or affection as has the present monarch;

2. repealing the current UK Order in Council to which our constitution is a mere appendix and enacting it in Jamaica where it belongs;

3. replacing the UK Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final appellate court; and

4. entrenching the Electoral Commission in the constitution.

Legally, or politically, these four items of reform require the holding of a referendum. It does not appear possible for a referendum to be held before or at the same time as the general election, which although due to be called before March 2021, is commonly believed will be called before the end of this year. A referendum could not be held without further consultation and the drafting of the necessary amending bills. In addition, the constitutionally controlled timetable for such amendments makes it unlikely that the referendum could be held before or at the time of the general election.

However, there is one essential step which has to be taken before any such constitutional changes can be implemented, and that is to have an Act passed which governs the holding of referenda. Such an Act would be similar to that which existed at the time of the holding of the referendum for secession from the Federation of the West Indies.

Local government elections are legally due to be held between November 28, 2020 and February 25, 2021. The holding of these elections in addition to the national elections and a referendum at different times within such a short period would be extremely expensive. I therefore suggest that the constitutional referendum be held at the same time as the local government elections and that the necessary preparations for this should commence immediately.

Dr Lloyd G Barnett

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