Let's become a republic
By Franklin Johnston
I want to see "WELCOME TO THE REPUBLIC OF JAMAICA" at my airports by 2015. Let us put this on the agenda of the next Parliament. It won't make us more independent or more prosperous, but it has collateral benefits. The Queen is a good scapegoat to blame, but a republic is not about her. She is head of the Commonwealth and head of state for only a third of members so we join the majority. Some 75 per cent of Australians voted to change her, yet out of respect they give her a royal train to ride before the Perth conference next week. The Queen doesn't mind, nor do we, so who benefits from a republic? Politicians? Voters?
PJ Patterson said we would be a republic come 2007, and Bruce Golding raised it too when they were prime ministers. What is the attraction? More power for them? For us? Ideology? The arguments are esoteric; our manhood is threatened by the Queen wearing "the pants" in our house; but we know she is a cipher as she can do only what Cabinet tells her. So who benefits?
What is a republic?
Many things: rules-based governance, no king or hereditary sons or daughters - no relative takes over and no MP or PM can leave the seat to his chosen son. The seat is the voters's. A Russian president is powerful but has term limits so he puts a proxy in place, leave for a time to circumvent the law and comes back after. The US president gets two terms - end of story! And back to real life. I like it, a powerful president with checks and balances in the constitution and Parliament. So what should our republic be like? Here:
An elected House of MPs whose job is to represent and develop their constituencies. No more "PM pressure mi, too busy to see constituents!" They are lawmakers not ministers.
An elected Senate: One senator elected by each parish plus seven independent "wise men" from farming, business, the professions. At present, the Senate is "upper" house in name only, as most members are partisans who obey their paymasters in the "lower" house.
An elected president: After 2012 we want no PM imposed on us by a party. We are 50 and can choose. We want a directly elected president to serve a maximum of two terms. We will assess the achievements, plans and character of new people and old ones in a three-month primary. The PNP wanted a president with power and the JLP a ceremonial one. Powerful presidents as Hitler moved uneducated people to oppress others. In my inbox I see comments from people who can read and write every week, but reasoning, the "fourth R", is far from them. A bad president could really create havoc, so let's educate all our people!
A judiciary ring fenced in the constitution with our Supreme Court at the apex is the key to good law, good practice, prompt justice for all and tamper proof courts. Amen!
The Executive: These are doers. Talkers are in the House. The president is CEO of Jamaica Ltd, responsible for results, so he needs a team of top managers and choice to appoint the best - it's his neck. Jamaica is small, people know you or your work. A good manager cannot hide so the president will appoint men and women who have track record in the private and public sectors or from the diaspora. If they are good we see them on the news.
Fixed election date: We need pre-set election dates - MPs, senators and president. This is for us not parties! Let's kill the old view; "what is good for the party is good for the nation".
Voters are the "demos" in our democracy and the roots of freedom. Election dates are for voters not parties. We matter! Some people don't vote. I don't deal with them as they disrespect the elders' struggle. Let us match MPs' résumés against the job; see their voting record on ganja, JPS, hanging, contracts, etc, and judge him on performance. Some say one thing in the constituency and quietly vote for another in the House.
Small constituencies breed garrisons: We spend millions to elect and pay an MP to represent 20,000 plus voters - a travesty! We need 45 MPs with 100k people in constituency for good governance. Larger constituencies have a critical mass of taxpayers, schools, public works, churches, businesses, so a proper constituency development plan is feasible. A small voter base means it's easy to buy 3,000 votes or fewer to win. Large constituencies dilute a garrison. Tivoli would be lost in a large constituency, neutralised after two terms and absorbed in three. As we reject "rum bar" politics and embrace media-driven politics the garrison will disappear or have little effect on elections.
A president is the CEO. Some say former President Reagan was an actor so we do not need a good manager as PM. Bulls! He led a nation that was prosperous for generations and has well-established systems. He just had to steer and pursue enrichment projects. We are ground zero; we are not, were never prosperous and our systems suck. We need good managers to get us airborne. The US finds $1b a week to fight in Iraq and it was not in their budget. We can't find teachers pay and it's in our budget. So none of the first eight PMs were known top managers. Are you happy with the results? So in 2012 you elect one just like the others and expect a different result? We need a republic so we can vote for a president. Our PM is an important icon. Great as Bob and Usain are, it is the PM who shows off our gravitas to the world. Scrutiny of a president also means we do the same for political appointees as chairs of boards, high commissioners who are not civil servants. We need the best. Our PM knows the people who can build our prosperity because they build it in other fields. A republic means he can appoint a Don Wehby as minister to do the job directly, not to mentor an MP. In our first 50 years lawyers, trade unionists, sociologists tried to build our economic independence. The second 50 is for managers, engineers, scientists and innovators to take us to prosperity. When we are full throttle like America, any actor or trade unionist can steer the ship and even think of some nice project - an ice skating rink - to put the icing on the cake.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness touched good bases in his speech; his bright young family was a joyful touch; we welcome him! Whether he is "more of the same" or the "special one" we will soon see. It is a hard job, thankless (unless you succeed in building prosperity) but well rewarded as no one runs from it - enjoy! Stay conscious, my friend!
Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston Consultants currently on assignment in the UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
October 28, 2011