October 6, 2022
There has been extensive public discourse concerning the future of Jamaica’s relationship with the British Monarch. It appears to be the case that most Jamaicans want to sever relations with the monarch. To be brutally honest, it is largely an inconsequential issue for me, for the simple reason that the idea of replacing a ceremonial British Head of State with a Jamaican Head of State is, in my view, a nonsensical and meaningless exercise. I am concerned, however, that we spend so many hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the Office of the Governor General the monarch’s representative- and r precious little in value from that office. Removing the monarch and retaining a Head of State who will do exactly what the current GG does, means continuing to spend hundreds of millions on an office that brings little value to the country.
So, the question becomes: is there a model for the role of Head of State that we can create that would enable that office to add value to, and improve the quality of, leadership and governance in Jamaica?
Towards a model of a Jamaican Head of State
The model I propose below is predicated on two basic worldviews, namely:
- That leadership is best when it is a shared responsibility, and
- The political history of Jamaica and our current divisive politics will make the choosing of a Head of State, acceptable to a large majority of people (who will be given the powers I propose herein) almost impossible.
In my view, the ideal parameters for the Jamaican Head of State (President) would include:
- That the President is chosen via an election, the ballot box, every eight years, and may serve two terms.
- That the President will function through a Council of advisors. This Council would have twelve people chosen by three constitutional office holders, namely the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice.
- Each of the three would, in their absolute discretion (but having the authority to consult with whomever they will), name four members to the Council.
- Each council member would serve a term of seven (7) years with the possibility of serving for a further seven-year period.
- With twelve named members the Council would then be a thirteen-member body whose decisions shall be made by majority vote (at 50% +1), with the President having the deciding vote, in the event of a tie.
- All decisions of the Council would be made after deliberation and consultation in duly constituted meetings.
- The quorum would be ideally two-thirds of the named members (any eight), plus the President.
- A resigned or withdrawn member will be replaced by the relevant constitutional office by whom the member was name.
- The public shall have access to all the deliberations (minutes) and decisions of the Council at least every five years.
Proposed Roles and Responsibilities of the Head of State
Mindful of the proposal that the Head of State would make decisions as guided by members of the Presidential Council, (none of whom he/she will have the power to remove but all of whom he /she will be able to influence) the roles and responsibilities of this functionary would include:
- Setting standards to be adopted by political parties for selecting members who should be considered eligible to run for office.
- Developing and administering a curriculum of leadership, governance, and parliamentary representational training for all elected and named members of the Houses of Parliament.
- Disciplining the members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, in instances of misconduct or otherwise making public pronouncements on their conduct as may be warranted based on the nature of the misconduct.
Subject to relevant amendments to the constitution, particularly as it pertains to the powers of the Prime Minister and the fixing of the date of elections, the President, (on the advice of his/her Council) may:
- Call early elections if it is deemed that the conduct of the sitting government warrants this.
Subject to the repealing of the Ombudsman Act, the President will:
- Ensure that the conduct of candidates during a election meet the standards of fairness, truth-speaking, respect for opponents, compliance with the Road Traffic Act, the Town and Country Planning Act, and other relevant legislations and would, subject to the findings of a fact-based inquiry either censure or otherwise discipline a candidate seeking office, or require him or her to pay the cost of repairing public or private property, as the case may be.
The theory of leadership and governance proposed here, which does not purport to be exhaustive, locates the duty for overseeing the maintenance of certain standards, in the office of the President. Thus, while the President may perform some ceremonial functions such as the opening of parliament, those ceremonial functions would be subordinate to the leadership and guardian-of-democracy functions the office holder performs.
Further, whereas at present the Governor General reads a speech prepared by the executive at the opening of parliament, under the system of leadership and governance contemplated herein, the President would have a hand in the shaping of the speech by virtue of influencing some of government’s priorities and programmes. This would be done transparently and in full view of the public.
The public would have a say in how long the president serves and that office would be up for election every eight years. Thus, the president would be ultimately accountable to the people by whom he or she was elected, unlike under the present where the Governor General is chosen by the Prime Minister with no obligation take the will of the people into account.
Dr. Canute Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection of eight books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.