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Jamaica Constitutional Reform: What the Diaspora is Saying

Jamaica Constitutional Reform: What the Diaspora is Saying

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Amb. Curtis Ward

(04/29/2023) — A group of Jamaican Diaspora leaders from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States have been convened to discuss Jamaica Constitutional Reform in a panel discussion scheduled for Sunday, April 30th at 3:00 pm EST (8:00 pm London, 2:00 pm Jamaica). This discussion on “What the Diaspora is Saying”

will look at the process, the context for reform, and areas of the Jamaican constitution which should be prioritized. The discussions will be live streamed on CaribNation YouTube channel.

As convener of this discussion, I have often reflected the frustration of members of the diaspora at large at being excluded from the governance of Jamaica. I have also noted that diaspora members were very disappointed, but not surprised, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness in announcing the appointment of the members of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), not only omitted diaspora representation, but failed to even mention whether there would be any mechanism to formally engage with the diaspora on this historic reform process. This omission from participation in what should be the most historic political event since independence reflects the government’s lackluster relationship with the diaspora.

In this context attention is drawn to what many in the diaspora regard as hypocrisy and empty rhetoric reflected in the often-repeated phrase by political leaders, of both political parties, that “Jamaica is a country without borders!” in the context of the importance and value of the diaspora to Jamaica. Yet, there is one perpetual glaring omission from inclusiveness, and that is in the governance of Jamaica. Instead of breaking down walls of separation between the diaspora and the government, the walls that separate us are fortified and new ones erected by deliberate exclusion policies when issues related to participation in governance of the country are raised. Reform of the constitution provides an opportunity to change this dynamic, but it begins with diaspora participation in the process.

With pressure from the diaspora for representation in the reform process, we have seen some comments from the CRC Chair and others to engage the diaspora, buy only marginally. And no clear path has yet been offered by the Chair.

As within the Jamaican public at home, there are contending positions in the diaspora with regard the process and on issues which should be prioritized, including those issues which are critical to a meaningful reform process. There is far more agreement than disagreement with what Jamaicans at home and abroad want. So why are diaspora patriotism, intellect, and voice’s being shunned? Is it that diaspora members are more apt to demand transparency in government and accountability by those in charge of the governance of the country, and are more likely to advocate for the interests of the people above partisanship and political self-interest in which a vast number of Jamaicans at home often acquiesce?

It is true that many in the diaspora demand transparency and good governance, guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms, an end to corruption and impunity for malfeasance, protection of human rights, equity and equal justice for all, and that government has a responsibility to guarantee human security across all spectrum of society. Many members of the diaspora strongly believe that the constitution must facilitate all these and more. The government of Jamaica, regardless of political party, should willingly embrace these important reforms to strengthen our democracy.

I have been listening to several members of the diaspora opining on these issues. Thus, it behooves me to give voice to the diaspora; to bring to a wider audience what the diaspora is saying about reform of the Jamaican constitution. The diaspora has a vested interest in certain fundamental changes. Foremost on the agenda is severing colonial ties with the U.K. which are enshrined in the current constitution. At the top of the agenda of priorities are two areas of the colonial legacy, replacing the monarchy with a Jamaican president and removing the UK Privy Council as Jamaica’s highest appeals tribunal and court of last resort. It is also important for the constitutional discrimination against half of the diaspora, particularly the US-based diaspora, which treats US-diaspora members as inferior to citizens of commonwealth countries must end. The dual nationality clause in Section 40 (2) and Section 39 of the constitution which create two classes of diaspora Jamaicans must be stricken from the constitution.

The process of selecting the president must involve the people. The process must provide for meaningful participation by the Jamaican body politic in the selection of the president and the duties ascribed to the office must be meaningful and not merely ceremonial. The president must serve at the will of the people and be accountable to the people, and not serve at the will of the prime minister and be accountable to whoever serves in that office.

In severing colonial ties, which are long overdue, the new constitution must clearly define nationhood and must provide a clear path for fulfilling the aspirations of all Jamaicans. The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms added to the Jamaica constitution in 2011 must be strengthened and not weakened.  Rights and freedoms must be expanded to be inclusive of all Jamaicans, whether by dint of their birth or descent who are nationals of Jamaica who are  deserving of and entitled to equal treatment under law. The protection of individual human rights must be applied without discrimination and exceptions. The human security of the Jamaican people which includes freedom from want and freedom from fear must be guaranteed by the constitution.

The opportunity to make Jamaica the true beacon of democracy and the rule of law must not be missed. The historic reform process must not be subjected to political expediency and rushed to satisfy any political agenda or timetable. The process must be deliberative and not rushed. The process must not be rushed to meet some artificial deadline. The result must fulfill the achievement of the full nationhood that was denied under the current constitution. Only then will a reformed constitution create the environment in which the aspirations of Jamaican people worldwide can be achieved.

The panelists who will be advancing arguments on the reform process are:

  • Dr. Dahlia Bateman, General Counsel, Wilfrid Laurier University, Toronto, Canada, – Jamaica Diaspora Canada.
  • Irwine Clare, Sr., O.D., Managing Director, Caribbean Immigrant Services and Founder, Chairman and CEO of Team Jamaica Bickle – Jamaica Diaspora USA.
  • Julius Garvey, M.D., a renowned Cardiovascular Surgeon and medical professor – Jamaica Diaspora USA.
  • Franklin Knight, PhD, Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History Emeritus, and co-Chair of John Hopkins University Academy of Scholars on the Homewood Campus of the John’s Hopkins University – Jamaica Diaspora USA.
  • Rudi Page, Founder of Making Connections Work, is an award-winning Leadership & Management Consultant – Jamaica Diaspora United Kingdom .
  • Valarie Steele, Former member of the Jamaica Advisory Board – Jamaica Diaspora Canada.
  • Doirean Wilson, PhD.  Visiting Professor of Religion & Multiculturalism, Joint Council of Churches for all Nations School of Theology, and a multiple award-winning leading Diversity Expert – Jamaica Diaspora United Kingdom

© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance. He is a geopolitical and international security analyst, and a human rights, democracy, and anticorruption advocate.

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