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Letter of the Day | Prioritise public interest in constitutional reform process

Saturday May 20, 2023


THE EDITOR, Madam:

I am writing to express deep concern regarding the current constitutional reform process, which fails to ensure adequate citizen participation and engagement. While appreciating the ongoing dialogue on this crucial matter, it is evident that the committee’s staged approach is flawed. Insufficient public consultation is evident, and even the committee acknowledges the majority of Jamaicans’ lack of awareness about the Constitution’s contents. It is disconcerting that committee members themselves admit their own limited knowledge in this area.


It is essential for the committee to address this issue by incorporating comprehensive public education as a crucial component of the process. Merely relying on sporadic gatherings and online polls hinders substantive discussions and falls short of providing a proper forum for informed decision-making.


Further, our concern extends to the limited public education on crucial matters, such as the possible powers to be conferred upon a president and the election/ selection process. The committee must focus on informing Jamaicans about all available options, with adequate explanations about their implications, which will allow for an informed decision to be made during a referendum. It is worth noting that past reports, on which the committee may rely, are outdated and may not align with the current demographic and aspirations. A flawed public engagement process from the past cannot serve as a reliable foundation for the present.


Given the gravity of this matter, there should be no rush in the constitutional reform process. Imposing an arbitrary timeline undermines the principle of informed consent for the citizens. We must learn from the experiences of other nations, such as the UK’s post-Brexit scenario. They held a referendum without providing adequate public education, resulting in widespread voter remorse and diminished trust in the government. We must avoid quelling democracy, and ensure approaching our process with caution and transparency.


We strongly urge the committee to prioritise active involvement of the people in shaping their collective future. We propose the following:

1. Develop and publish a comprehensive public education plan outlining the topics for discussion, respective fora, and corresponding dates. These topics should include a basic understanding of the Constitution and the current leadership framework, exploration of recommendations from previous constitutional reform reports, and an examination of various presidential models beyond ceremonial or executive roles.


2. Allocate one year exclusively to the public education stage of the process.


3. Conduct wide and targeted public consultations, including focus groups, surveys, town halls, and parliamentary submissions from key governance-focused groups, once the education plan is completed.


4 Enhance transparency by live-streaming committee meetings, provide detailed minutes of each meeting, and promote open dialogue.


By embracing these recommendations, we can ensure that the constitutional reform process reflects the will and informed consent of the Jamaican people. Let us prioritise the long-term interests and foster stronger democracy through inclusive and transparent decision-making.


JADE WILLIAMS

Policy and Advocacy Specialist

Jamaicans for Justice

communications@jamaicansforjustice.org


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