Between the remaining weeks of this year and 2022 two of CARICOM’s most influential countries would have celebrated major independence milestones, giving them the opportunity to make major changes to their constitutions, including parting ways with the British monarch as their head of state and transitioning to a republic.
One of them — Barbados — last week twinned 55 anniversary independence celebrations with ceremonies that replaced Queen Elizabeth as the island’s head of state and installed Governor General Sandra Mason as the country’s first native president.
The other — Jamaica — clearly stung awake by the ease with which Barbados made the transition, is now in a mad scramble to ensure that the opportunity of 60th independence anniversary celebrations next August should not pass without Jamaica becoming a republic alongside Guyana, Trinidad, Dominica and now Barbados.
Leading the charge is elder Jamaica and CARICOM statesman, Percival James Patterson. At 86 years, the former prime minister appears to be in a hell of a hurry to make one last major contribution to Jamaica and he has offered himself both as the man who could bring the Labor (JLP) and National Party (PNP) together to complete the break from its British colonial past and also the one who wants to be the loudest bell ringer for change.
Patterson in recent days wrote both of the major parties urging them to take advantage of the euphoria that might be associated with diamond jubilee celebrations to make the move arguing that the time is long past for the country to be represented by a head of state that is not native to the island.
“It is repulsive to contemplate a diamond jubilee where our constitution rests on an Order in Council dated 23rd July 1962 and a head of state who does not reflect our own image and enables every Jamaican to aspire reaching the highest position within our native land. The time is long due to seek yonder horizon during the year of our jubilee,” he wrote.
But based on responses from Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Attorney General, Marlene Malahoo Forte the island is in fact on course for major constitutional changes in the coming months.
The Observer newspaper reported this week that Holness has ordered a revamp of the constitution and it could include clauses catering to a republic and a local head of state.
“What is required at this stage is really a wholesale look at who we are as Jamaicans and what it is that we stand for even as we look at the form of government that we have and who is our head of state. And, there are involved questions. You know the matter will ultimately have to go to a referendum involving all of the people. So, I can say that everyone can stand by as timely information will come on how we will embark on the process and the issues that we will be addressing,” stated Malahoo Forte.
On the issue of referendum, Patterson argued that once the leaders of the two main parties endorse the move to a republic, it would be much easier to achieve this as the mood is right and the 60th independence celebrations could be seen as a gift that should be grabbed with both hands. In the case of Barbados, the referendum issue was a moot point as the Labor Party (BLP) controls 29 of the 30 parliamentary seats, meaning the government was allowed to ignore referendum requirements with almost absolute control of the house including the two thirds mandate for entrenched constitutional clauses.
On Wednesday, Patterson, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, retired JLP elder and parliamentarian, Pearnel Charles will appear on radio programs to push the issue, explain the plan and allay any lingering fears about the transition. Jamaica and Trinidad are the oldest independent nations in CARICOM.