June 05, 2007

Constitutional Reform on Jamaican Govt. Agenda

Gov't places constitutional reform back on agenda in election year
B. Henry
Jamaica Observer
Tuesday, June 05, 2007

THE Cabinet, in an unusual development yesterday, voted to table a Green Paper on constitutional reform in the House of Representatives today, effectively placing the issue, over which there are some areas of disagreement, firmly on the pre-election agenda.

Information Minister Donald Buchanan told yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House that the Green Paper will address a number of constitutional issues, dating back to 1991 when the current process originated.

"We have been going through some 15 continuous years of discussions and negotiations and we are satisfied that now is the appropriate time for us to place this Green Paper on the table of Parliament," Buchanan told reporters.

He added that it would, basically, ensure that the process is taken forward in this legislative year.

Among the primary issues to be addressed in this Green Paper are:
. the creation of a republican system, with the Queen replaced as Head of State by a president;
. the complete rewriting of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms;
. the substitution of the Caribbean Court of Justice for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as Jamaica's final court of appeal; and
. procedures with appropriate sanctions for parliamentary oversight of the executive;and changes in the composition of the Senate.

"We would want the Parliament of Jamaica, and by extension the people of Jamaica, to be fully aware of where we are so that, as we enter into a national general election some time within the next five months or so, that those issues will be squarely in front of the people, as well as the fact that, thereafter, the government of the day would have some level of obligation to carry forward this process," Buchanan said.He said that once the elections are over, there should be no retraction or reneging on the process.

Responding to questions about the Charter of Rights and the Caribbean Court of Justice, which have been debated outside the ambit of the current constitutional reform issues, Buchanan said: "We feel that all of these discussions are sufficiently advanced... so that we can incorporate them into this Green Paper as the basis for going forward."

He said that everything in the Green Paper would be debated. The issues in the Green Paper have not been the primary focus in the current election campaign, as discussions have been more centred on the economy, crime and the personalities.

Although a Green Paper is not an official government paper and is only tabled for discussions, its acceptance depends on what tactics the Government will use to get consensus on moving these issues forward, whoever wins the election.

The ruling People's National Party (PNP) and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have agreed, basically, on the need for a republican system of government, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the need for procedures with appropriate sanctions for parliamentary oversight to control the power of the executive.

However, while the PNP wants an executive president, the JLP has been insisting on a symbolic head of state. The parties differ even more on the issue of the final court of appeal, with the JLP wanting to retain the Privy Council, at least for the time being.

Buchanan said the question of the composition of the Senate relates to whether independent persons should make up the membership.

But he insisted that in large measure, both sides have agreed in principle to these changes, which will require bipartisan support in Parliament or public approval via a referendum.

"It would be most unfortunate if these agreements, so painstakingly fashioned over the past 15 years, were to be abandoned in the course of the forthcoming election campaign or ignored thereafter," Buchanan said.
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1 comment:

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