Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Time to abolish Jamaica’s Electoral College

Published:Sunday | March 3, 2019 | 12:24 AM
File As early as 1967, PNP founder Norman Manley recognised Jamaica’s error in meekly accepting the British-imposed 1962 Constitution.

It’s way past time we stopped pussyfooting around the problem of Government accountability.

It’s time we stop obsessively watching political finger-pointing as if it were a reality television show and start doing something about it. The current episode of ‘Real Housewives’ of Gordon House features a plaintive PNP cry for transparency at Petrojam.

But this is the same PNP who fought bitterly for 10 years (and aluta continua) to avoid having to answer Dutch prosecutors’ questions about Trafigura in open court.

For those with short memories, Trafigura made a huge campaign contribution (over $30 million) to the People’s National Party (PNP) by clandestine means while Trafigura was a Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) – Petrojam’s parent company – oil lifting contractor whose contracts were up for renewal.

PNP chairman-for-life, Robert Pickersgill, said the campaign donation was “chicken feed”; PM Portia told an enquiring media “Ask the PNP”; and Colin Campbell, who facilitated the donation, was subsequently appointed PNP communications director. Really? Seriously? Communications?

Colin Campbell, Portia Simpson Miller, Robert Pickersgill and Phillip Paulwell have steadfastly resisted communicating to the Jamaican people by answering questions in open court.

THIS is why Government can treat PNP cries for transparency on Petrojam with contempt. And THIS is why Government can tell the people what it wants when it wants. PNP crocodile tears look like liquid silicone and their demands for truth ring hollow.

Aren’t you tired (and sick) of it all? I am. Don’t you want a brand new system of governance that can at least try to prevent repeats of Trafigura and Petroscam? Do you need x-ray vision to see clearly that the present system doesn’t work; has never worked; and will never work? Do we want to build a place our grandchildren will want to call home instead of fleeing to cold, northern climes like Venezuelan “refugees”?

Don’t you at least want to have a say in who leads your country? Did you feel abused when, in 1989, Jamaica used its limited plebiscite to ‘vote for’ Michael Manley but, later, PNP delegates chose P.J. for us? I did.

Did you feel violated when Jamaica ‘voted for’ P.J. Patterson in 2003, but 1,700 PNP delegates forced Jamaica to accept Portia? I did.

How’d you feel when Jamaica ‘voted for’ Bruce Golding in 2007 but 30-odd MPs forced us to call Andrew Holness PM? I felt helpless. I realised my ‘vote’ was a farce.

WE DIDN’T ‘FIGHT’ FOR INDEPENDENCE

It’s time. Without copying their system wholesale, we must do what the Americans did 250 years ago, despite not having their motivation. They fought a bitter war for Independence against England. Had they lost, their leaders, like John Adams and George Washington, would’ve been hanged in London for treason. American blood is on the independent United States flag.

WE MUST BUILD OUR OWN

Americans built a Republic to suit Americans. It distanced itself as far from the hated oppressors in Westminster as Americans could arrange.

Now we must build our own. We didn’t ‘fight’ for independence, no matter the hocus-pocus PNP/JLP may try to force feed you.

We asked for independence and a relieved England celebrated ‘yesssss!’

Our so-called Independence Constitution was drafted by England, as was the case in all former colonies, to ensure the British Empire persisted in less expensive form. British governance systems were exported wholesale.

For 400 years, our resources had been expropriated for the glorious objective of English prosperity. We were told to accept British governance and British control of our judiciary and call it Jamaican.

Jamaica’s Head of State is still the English Queen. Her representative in Jamaica, formerly the governor, was rechristened governor general and continued, in her name, to supervise Jamaica’s government from a home called ‘Kings’ House. Peter Phillips has just written a letter to the latest occupant asking him to do just that.

Are we sick? Or high? Or brainwashed?

The result is a misfit nation that became a facilitator of corruption. We all bear personal responsibility for allowing the cancer of corruption to fester in Jamaica’s innards for 50 years. But none is more responsible than PNP. Why? Because, from as early as 1967, PNP founder, Norman Manley, recognised Jamaica’s error in meekly accepting the British-imposed 1962 Constitution and, in his famous farewell speech, prophesised:

“What is the mission of this generation? It is … reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica.”

Reconstructing? That’s an unambiguous call for constitutional reform tailored to Jamaica’s history, needs and aspirations rather than furthering England’s imperial intent. We, but especially PNP, have callously spat at his vision for 50 years. Shame!

Now we must begin urgent reconstruction of Jamaica’s social and economic life to create a Jamaican Republic and abolish every vestige of British rule. Simply renaming GG ‘President’ won’t cut it. We must cease all genuflection before British precedent and stride into the future as Jamaicans.

We must never again allow 1,775 votes from an electorate of two million to select Jamaica’s PM, as happened in February 2006. We must NEVER again allow 32 MPs to select a PM for three million Jamaicans, as happened in 2011.

In our Republic, every Jamaican must have a vote for PM and every registered political party member a vote for party leader. Why permit political parties to appoint 5,000 phantom ‘delegates’ to select their leader when membership is 50 per cent of the electorate? Madness!

Jamaicans, we mock the USA’s Electoral College system of presidential elections. But we don’t acknowledge Jamaica operates an almost identical system without the historical context that justifies USA’s.

In the United States, the Electoral College grew out of the reality of a negotiated union of independent states who needed to ensure each state, with its differing laws, cultures and norms, had a say in electing a federal president. What’s the point of electing a federal president of 50 states by popular vote if it means two states could effectively elect every president?

SMELLS JUST AS STINK

Jamaica doesn’t have a federal union yet popular vote means diddly squat here. We’ve a first-past-the-post system that turns the winner of most Lower House seats into Government. We each get one vote for MP alone. That MP is equivalent to a member of USA’s Electoral College because he/she, along with only one-half of the Jamaican Electoral College, selects Jamaica’s PM.

Don’t believe you know in advance who that’ll be. Remember Busta to Sangster to Shearer; Michael to P.J; PJ to Portia; Bruce to Andrew? All were arbitrarily selected by Jamaica’s Electoral College without so much as a single citizen’s vote as foundation.

Time to understand that crap by any other name smells as stink and abolish Jamaica’s Electoral College. We need a direct, popular vote winner as PM and a constitutional path of succession should PM resign, be impeached or die in office.

Not even USA’s Electoral College gives the president absolute power. POTUS isn’t allowed to whimsically appoint a Senate majority; own a veto of every public agency board appointment; and control the identity of significant government contractors. But JAMAICA’S ELECTORAL COLLEGE DOES THIS TO US!

Jamaicans have spent two and a half years complaining Trump is president, despite losing the popular vote. But, in 1944, JLP won 22 of 32 seats, despite polling 144,661 of 347,127 votes cast. In 1949, JLP won 17 of 32 seats, despite polling only 199,538 (42.71 per cent) of 467,179 votes. PNP (13 seats) received 43.46 per cent. Each time, popular vote loser won all! Government; Parliament; Senate; public boards; government contracts. EVERYTHING!

Neither party wants this to change. They relish elections as contests won by who can create more garrisons than the other. Until we stop falling for their democracy hoax and reject Jamaica’s Electoral College, there’ll be no change. Both parties can continue to play political finger-pointing games and treat us like children.

“You carrupp!”

“No, you more carrupp!”

C’mon man, wake up and smell the hallucinogen!

Cabinet shouldn’t be able to spend a dollar of public money unless approved by an independent Parliament. Then parliamentary committees/auditor general together with impeachment/recall provisions can imperil corruption.

A vital cog in the accountability wheel is a constitutionally protected free press. No public official should use libel claims as a gag unless he/she can prove malice. Errors will be made in news reporting. Reputations will be temporarily damaged.

Yawn.

It comes with the territory.

If you want to ‘represent’ us, you must accept you work for us and our assessment of your work. A swift apology and correction should limit any reputational damage. Laws can be restructured to provide that an apology only negatives malice. Media’s reluctance to apologise to public officials for errors is because, currently, apologies are used as admissions of liability. Media must be free to hold the governors to account on behalf of the governed. Investigative journalism must attract the same constitutional protection as opinion.

Peace and Love!

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com