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Youth involvement critical to constitutional reform process - Howell

Friday, May 5, 2023


Attorney-at-law Christina Howell has called for greater youth involvement in Jamaica’s constitutional reform process, which demands inclusivity, unity, trust and transparency.


She says youth engagement encourages active citizenship, national pride and will allow youth to understand the constitution in its current form and participate in what it will be.


“Active youth involvement and engagement in the constitutional reform process is critical and it is important that we understand that anything done for youth, without youth, runs the risk of failure,” Howell said.


She was addressing a Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) panel discussion dubbed ‘Conversation on the Constitution’, which was held at Bethel Baptist Church on Tuesday evening.


The attorney said Jamaica’s new constitution must mirror the aspirations, needs and views of all Jamaicans.


“Our young people must not simply be invited to the table so that our presence becomes a mere decoration – it becomes tokenistic or ticking a box. We therefore must have proactive and meaningful engagement, listening keenly to concerns and even dissenting views,” Howell said.


She called on the Government to create physical and virtual spaces which will give youth the opportunity to share their perspectives on proposed changes to the constitution.


“Invite them to vlog, invite them to create social media accounts for the process, have associated hashtags, create Tik Tok and YouTube videos. Use popular entertainers to carry the message because we want the conversation to be far-reaching. News sound bytes and town hall meetings alone will not cut it. There has to be more, and we expect more,” Howell said.


She added that youth engagement is a perfect opportunity to help to build and rebuild trust in democracy.


COLONIAL APPROACH


Director of the National Integrity Action (NIA), Professor Trevor Munroe, reiterated his call for public broadcast of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) meetings.


“The current process that is under way needs to be fundamentally transformed in so far as it does not seem to be learning the lessons of the colonial approach of 1961 and 1962, in that we do not have any minutes of what is being done. There is no livestreaming of the meetings that are taking place, as happens with ordinary legislation.”


Munroe said there is absolutely no public educational material that can help to inform the debate as to whether Jamaica’s president should be elected or appointed, and ceremonial or executive.


He added that it is his hope that JCC will continue the conversation through similar forums and that it will ensure that the existing CRC learns the lessons from the past.


“The colonial approach is not going to be in the interest of the people, and that we want real consultation and that consultation is going to take time. It only should be tied to a timetable of what is really possible and necessary for consultation and not tied to the timetable of any election that may be coming in the near future,” Munroe reasoned.


Meanwhile, executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP), Jeanette Calder, urged Jamaicans to participate in the constitutional reform process, as democracy is designed for citizen engagement.


She referenced the Kenyan constitution which begins with the statement, “The people are sovereign”, and noted that Jamaicans are employers of 63 members in the Lower House and 21 in the Senate and have a responsibility to be vigilant.


“Jamaica is really waiting more on the citizens than it is waiting on anyone else. It doesn’t matter the model that we change to, if we continue to disengage, we will still end up back right where we are,” Calder remarked.


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