By Ian Francis
Celebrating 50 years of independence from the shackles of British colonialism is a milestone for any nation. Jamaica has achieved it and I offer my sincere congratulations on this very important historical achievement.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The celebrations come at a time when Caribbean people in Toronto will once again raise their cultural flags to host the famous Caribbean festival now allegedly hijacked by Scotia Bank and the City of Toronto; the showdown at the London Olympic Games between Blake and Bolt no doubt brought added joy and pride to a nation known for its firm stand on nationalism and its population’s knowledge of Europe and North America and not the Caribbean Commonwealth.
Unfortunately, as the celebrations take shape over the next few days, it is extremely difficult to resist commenting about the growing level of poverty, criminal activity and widespread corruption in all sectors of the society. While many of these shameless acts are reported in various medium forums, many go unreported but victims remain across the nation. In spite of these challenges, it is important to recognize the efforts being made by the administration of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to address these socio-economic ills. The administration requires the support of all and sundry if it is going to impact the challenges faced.
While the administration’s efforts are commendable, there are several existing regional policy issues that must be resolved. One such critical policy issue is Jamaica’s membership in the Caribbean Court of Justice. Based on existing media reports from Kingston, it would appear that there are persistent disagreements in the lower House of Parliament between the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) administration and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) regarding the implementation of a mechanism to withdraw from the British Privy Council and accept the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final appellate jurisdiction.
With fairness to the stakeholders involved in discussing an appropriate mechanism for membership in the CCJ, I cannot resist supporting the position of Jamaican legal luminary, A.J. Nicholson, who currently serves as the administration’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is extremely difficult to comprehend the JLP position on insisting that there must be a national referendum to give concurrence for membership in the CCJ. In my view, given the still existing deep entrenchment of colonialism in the nation, a referendum is bound to bring about further tribalism and discontent. The JLP must understand that their demand for a national referendum should be dropped.
In supporting the position of Minister Nicholson, it is quite evident that Jamaica’s membership of the Court will have a very positive impact throughout the region and this is why the JLP should support other alternatives. Jamaica is not the only Caribbean nation faced with the challenge of holding a referendum to determine future membership in the CCJ. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) membership is also faced with the referendum challenge.
What should be evidently clear to the Caribbean legal community and especially those who hold the Privy Council on a pedestal, is that they have said in many different ways, “Guys, we do not want you anymore. Use the CCJ.” Unfortunately and with extremely great disappointment, there are many who have not heeded this message and continue to dream and fantasise that the Privy Council will always be the final appellate jurisdiction.
As the situation is examined, Jamaica and the OECS might wish to consider pursuing a legal option by seeking a reference from their respective jurisdiction as to whether a referendum is necessary. If this approach is taken into account, the applicants must also take into consideration that opinions will vary given the prevailing attitude and support for colonialism throughout the region.
As efforts are pursued in finding a regional mechanism that would afford membership in the CCJ, the CARICOM Secretariat, local bar associations and regional governments must all accept criticism for their lethargy in not mounting a strong public information and awareness strategy on the CCJ. Our Caribbean leaders and institutions must realize that ramming down public policy decisions in the throats of voters does not always work. People need to be engaged on public policy issues and given the evolution of media diversity in the region; it is extremely difficult to rationalize such lethargic conduct.
In conclusion, as the referendum debate for membership in the CCJ pervades throughout the region, this should be a clear indicator to governments that there are several other things that require fixture and maybe it is time to take an inventory.
We should start with the CARIBCAN trade agreement.