Monday, February 21, 2011

Constitutional Reform....IF NOT NOW, WHEN? IF NOT US, WHO?

On July 7, 1977 a Constitutional Reform Programme was launched in Morant Bay, St. Thomas. It was scheduled to be completed over a period of 18 months. One year for debate, around 7 subject areas and the other 6 months would address the Parliamentary process required to make it law.

Some three months later on September 12, 1977 a concerned Jamaican who signed their name 'Hungry Belly' wrote the Gleaner under the Voice of the People column stating how strange it was that the Govt would think it timely to start a debate on the Constitution as it would "make you think that the constitution is the root of all our present woes". The article went on to call the process a "masquerade, as we have far more important matters to attend to".
It continued….Our present Constitution is not causing the present shortages, nor is it the cause of our money problems, nor is it the cause of our crime problems, nor is it the cause of our massive unemployment. That was a VERY DANGEROUS & UNFORTUNATE WAY TO VIEW IT. May we share with you why?

Jamaica is the fourth most indebted country IN THE WORLD! For the last 12 years we have been spending more than we earn. So we borrow and keep borrowing to fill the gap. We consume but we don't produce. Decisions are taken by Government every Monday morning at Jamaica House that DIRECTLY IMPACTS on our quality of life. What we can eat, IF we can eat, where we can go, if we can earn, if we are safe, if we are not, do I walk a mile to a spring to bathe or can I turn on a tap take a shower, can I as a retired pensioner live with dignity, can I afford a hospital bed, is one even available….…the list is endless and exhaustive.

Its basically about who makes decisions for our society and how. We don't have to look back far to understand why that 1977 writer was dreadfully wrong and the examples abound. Lets skip the Extradition and MPP as it might be just "white noise" to many by this. In 2009, the Jamaican Govt decided that the IMF was our only way out of our self-imposed crisis. This was an option that was going to undeniably be and has been a source of hardships for 1000s of citizens. Yet this decision was basically taken by a mere 32 deggeh deggeh Jamaicans - 2 women and 30 men - that form the ruling party. Despite the public interest and debate, we were merely 'informed' on the morning of January 14 that "the IMF has approved Jamaica's request for a US$1.3billion under a 27-month standby agreement". Yet the date set for Parliamentary debate was January 19, 2010 when clearly the Agreement would have been a done deal. Its very unlikely that the cause of this was a confused secretary at Gordon House who got the dates wrong.

What makes this a relevant example is that the Constitution of Jamaica allows for that. It makes it possible for the Government of 32-strong to proceed EVEN IF there was a debate and the Opposition and the people of the land disagreed. And while the Opposition was crying FOUL, it is undeniable that they too have made very good use of this legislative shortcoming in the Constitution for their own whims and fancies. So a decision that would determine how many "hungry bellies" went to bed and woke up the same this morning can be directly attributed to what the Constitution of Jamaica affords us.

Now this letter went on to say…….
"The grassroots people will never understand what the whole debate is about and it will only cause confusion with what we already have. Actually I don't understand it myself. Leave constitutional reform to people who understand it and stop this so-called debate because it is only a show to fool the people since the Govt has already decided what changes they intend to have. What the people want to hear about is food, clothing and shelter. Constitutional debate at this time of crisis cannot put food into hungry bellies".

As it is now, so it was then. The ink had barely dried on the recently signed and first IMF Agreement and the general populace was grappling to survive the harsh economic realities facing them. This Jamaican had a legitimate concern but there was also a trap and he/she fell in and from all accounts so did the entire Jamaica.

Mistake #1. With challenges of basic survival that we face, we do not have either the time or energy for such a "masquerade". The writer felt that the reform debate was a luxury and even if done the Government was going to have its way anyway. Jamaica has existed in crisis mode for decades and the argument of waiting til we can afford the debate is diversionary and will only ensure the status quo of the Government by 32 majority. How much more of that can we really afford?

Mistake #2. The "grassroots people" were underestimated. If we stop speaking over their heads in a language designed to obfuscate, you will come to appreciate and admire their capacity for understanding and problem solving. No one surviving in Jamaica today can possibly be called stupid.

Mistake #3. The belief was that the Government was going to have their way anyway so what's the point. Hmmph. Bob said "none but ourselves can free our minds". That is a perception that has enslaved us and the recent Government backpedaling on both the Dec 17 Tax Package and the Extradition Matter should speak more volumes than we can achieve if fueled by consensus and 'people power'.

This is written from a desire to open up a discussion (and perhaps a plan) around an issue that we have been flirting with for some time. Every member of Bridges To Jamaica is here from a clear intent to improve life for Jamaicans living in Jamaica. We are proud of where we are from and we are burning inside to offer meaningful change. We all have different interests but it is being proposed that very little can be furthered in any of those individual causes until we wrestle with collective empowerment. Any fundamental and sustainable change will be thwarted and has been BECAUSE of where the balance of power lies. What is necessary is re-aligning that power and re-configuring it to facilitate releasing the awesome resource that is THE JAMAICAN.

Should Jamaica finish the journey that was started over some three decades ago, on July 7, 1977? Can Bridges to Jamaica be that very BRIDGE between those who laid the foundations 33 years ago and those who are poised to complete it now but need the buttressed support of we, the people. Can we be the spark, to set this change in motion? Members of Bridges to Jamaica, What Say You?

J'can Artist Michael Thompson

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