National Heroes Day is here! Those of us with jobs will return to work after the pomp and pageantry associated with yet a further vestige of colonialism. As is customary on National Heroes Day the Governor General presents national awards and honours at Kings House to those Jamaicans who have contributed to nation building in one way or the other. A nation pauses to remember and pay tribute especially to our seven National Heroes who struggled and fought against the odds for us to have a voice and a role in determining our future. Our national heroes sacrificed a lot, without a doubt some paid with their lives for us to have a better standard of living than what they had. However, the older I get the more I am certain that our political leaders have failed us by still adhering to a model of democracy and governance which have excluded the will of the majority of the Jamaican people from the general decision making process of government. Sadly, our democratic process is one in which once an election is over with and a political party is confirmed as the winner by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) there ends the consultative process with the ordinary man in the street until the next election. Without legislation to address campaign finances we clearly have seen where special interest groups with the financial backing can and have swayed the electorates many of whom are not significantly better off than their grandparents were during the period of discussions surrounding nationhood and independence.
This can’t be what democracy is all about? In fact I don’t think our founding fathers and mothers fought the British in the various Maroon Wars had this in mind for us especially since we are still enslaved and shackled under a new system of slavery in the guise of democracy. The skin colour of our colonial masters now resemble that of ours and because of this very fact many of us are not readily aware of what is happening or going to happen to us.
Was this what our forefathers had this in mind when they negotiated for our political independence? In gaining political independence in August of 1962 the society inherited many of the trappings of the colonial mother Britain, one of which was the system of governance. The Westminster system of governance has failed the majority of the Jamaican people. What is the Westminster system about? The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Unlike most other democratic systems in Europe and the United States of America which are based on the principle of power separation, the Westminster system of government is characterized by the way in which powers are merged. The historic counterbalancing structure between the Crown, the House of Lords and the Houses of Parliament gradually receded with the establishment of the constitutional democracy.
The rule of parliament developed into rule of the House of Commons and, with the arrival political-party-based democracy, was transformed again into government rule over the House of Commons based on an overall majority. The term parliamentary sovereignty, therefore, has become synonymous for sovereignty of a centralized British government.
As a critic of the Westminster model I am of the view that it lacks the necessary counter balances to check the executive branch of government. This lack of check and balances in the Westminster system have given successive governments in Jamaica the green light to made decisions that are not in the best interest of the country. Under the Westminster system once a government is in power their primary concern is how to win the next election and remain in power indefinitely. We are all too familiar with this in Jamaica. There is hardly any room for a difference of opinions from that of the collective voice of the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. This can’t be good for any country more so a developing country.
While supporters of the Westminster model emphasize its efficiency and its ability to make decisions quickly without being blocked by other institutional powers, and the fact that a sitting government is not readily forced into compromise, which provides voters with clear alternatives, and its internal systems of correction which are capable of forcing the resignation of the prime minister and early elections. We clearly have reached the point now that after more than a half century of political independence we need to widen the scope for a broader representation from all sections of the Jamaican landscape to partake in the process of governance. In order to do this we need to rid ourselves of the Westminster system and find a more consensus based system of government.
Our political leaders today are certainly not made of the same dynamism and enthusiasm as our forefathers or else they would by now move to replace this non progressive system of governance with a more inclusive, fair and just system. Why should we continue to have a system whereby members in the Upper House of Parliament or Senate do not face an electorate yet they are a part of the law making process in the country? Why do you still need a Senate especially in a time of austerity measure, we could easily abolish the Senate?
One such system is to abolish the Queen as Head of State and become a Republic and institute the Proportional Representation (PR) system of government.
Proportional representation or PR is a type of electoral system which attempts to match the proportion of seats won by a political party with the proportion of the total vote for that party. Just a system would clearly manifest the wishes of the Jamaican electorate more so than the First Past the Post System which we currently use. Another advantage of the PR system is the revolutionary move it would have in breaking the cultural exclusion of third parties in the political process and thus allowing for greater representation in the House of Parliament.
In moving towards the Proportional Representation system of government not only would be allowing more access in the political process for all Jamaicans we would also change the divisive and destructive political culture of the state. We would also eradicate a significant percentage of corruption associated with politics. Additionally we would build team work and cooperation and just image the message this would send to the wider society.
A most fitting tribute to our National Heroes would be to ensure that most if not Jamaicans have a voice in the political process and this can only be achieved by putting in place the necessary legislation to abolish all remnants of colonialism thus engendering and empowering the proud legacy our forefathers left for us. Somehow I don’t think we will get to that system in which our political leaders realize they are servants of the people and not the other way around. I do hope I am proven wrong! From past history it appears that our politicians are not in the business of loosen their grips around our throats; it would seem they are more for consolidating power in the hands of the few than trying to improve the lives of the many.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.