Phillip Paulwell | Jamaican republicanism – more than empty symbolism
After 30 years of public life, which started in 1991 with my appointment as the youngest trade administrator and CEO of the Trade Board Ltd. through to being the first CEO of the Fair Trading Commission, and also after 26 years in the Parliament (two of which were in the Senate), and after14 years as a Cabinet minister, I wish to share some of my thoughts with the readers of The Gleaner.
I was born on January 14, 1962, so for all intents and purposes, I am a child of independence. My 60th year will also be the 60th year of our nation. My fervent hope is that Jamaica will take irrevocable steps to become a republic at 60. We need to, finally, move away from the shadow of our colonial past.
The issue of removing the Queen as our head of state has sparked more interest since Barbados moved to become a republic. There are eight more Commonwealth Caribbean monarchies remaining, and Jamaica is one of them. Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley stated that every single Barbadian child would have been barred from ever becoming the head of state of Barbados if the country did not become a republic. The same applies to every single Jamaican child. We need to give our children the same opportunity as proud Jamaicans to aspire to become the head of state of Jamaica. We have talked about becoming a republic for far too long. This year, 2022, we must take action.
Jamaica has traditionally been a Caribbean leader on moral and political issues, and we should honour our ancestors by resuming this role.
Notwithstanding the fact that on May 26, 2021, Prime Minister Andrew Holness accepted an appointment to become a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, we should be moving in a different direction to become a republic. When he takes his oath of office as a Privy Counsellor, this is what he has to recite: “You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto the Queen’s Majesty, as one of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty’s Person, Honour, Crown, or Dignity Royal, but you will let and withstand the same to the uttermost of your Power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will, in all things to be moved, treated, and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all Matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors, you will not reveal it unto him, but will keep the same until such time as, by the Consent of Her Majesty, or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance unto the Queen’s Majesty; and will assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.”
This is a very burdensome oath as it ensures that anyone so appointed shall perform their duties as a faithful and loyal servant to Her Majesty. Is this the direction in which we should be heading? The prime minister’s desire to accept British honours at a time when the vexing issues of the Windrush scandal and reparations for African slavery remain unresolved sends the wrong signal.
Removing Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Jamaica and replacing her with our own president, chosen by a process that will be authentically homegrown, should be our priority. Her Majesty has been our Head of State for almost 60 years, during which time she has always been respectful to Jamaica and our culture, however, the need to transition to republicanism is not an act of rudeness as some would have us believe, but rather a historical imperative whose time has arrived as part of our evolutionary process. It was one of our National Heroes, Norman Manley, who told the House of Representatives on January 24, 1962, the following :
“Let us not make the mistake of describing as colonial, institutions which are part and parcel of the heritage of this country. If we have any confidence in our own individuality and our own personality we should absorb these things and incorporate them into our being and turn them to our own use as part of the heritage we are not ashamed of.” (Proceedings of the Jamaican House of Representatives 1961-62, 24 January 1962, p. 766).
COMPLETE THAT PROCESS
The process of evolution that Norman spoke about in 1962 has continued way past our independence, and in 2022, our 60th year as a nation, we can complete that process by becoming a republic. The forces of our own evolution and history ought not to wait upon the ascension to the throne of Prince Charles as our next head of state. We are aware of Prince Charles’ own position against the retention of the monarchy for former colonies. We should make the change now before that time arrives and we have to depart in indignity.
This is really a matter of having different perspectives on what our future should look like. The prime minister and I are parliamentarians on different sides of the political aisle, but we both have the interests of Jamaica at heart in different ways. We do not have to fight and quarrel over which direction we need to take, but I want to make my position clear.
Accepting a membership in Her Majesty’s Privy Council and swearing the oath of a Privy Counsellor is not my idea of moving forward to become a republic. I accept that my former party leader, P.J. Patterson, accepted membership in Her Majesty’s Privy Council when he was in office, and I recognise that he would have taken the same oath. I respect his recent decision to publicly call for Jamaica to become a republic.
This decisive statement from my former leader can become the kind of clarion call that can widen the umbrella of consensus for becoming a republic notwithstanding anyone’s personal choices on the subject.
Today, I call on Andrew Holness, prime minister, to make a definitive statement with a timetable of action to take Jamaica forward to become a republic. He is now serving his third term as prime minister since his first appointment on October 23, 2011. This is an urgent item of constitutional reform that should not be delayed. There is enough time for all sides of the Parliament to settle on the agreed requisite reform processes to create the Republic of Jamaica.
Let us put aside previous differences on this issue. We owe it to the next generation to demonstrate that we can provide them with a meaningful foundation for the State that belongs to us by virtue of the process of evolution that Norman spoke about in 1962. In 2022, it will not be “empty symbolism”.
In upcoming articles, I will deal with our great achievements to become a global brand but also, areas of failings like tribalism, crime and violence, and corruption. I will also challenge us, in this our 60th year of Independence, to some Big Ideas that will enable us to transform our country into the great potential it can be.
Phillip Paulwell, member of parliament for the constituency of Kingston East and Port Royal and former Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. He s the managing director of Cite Consulting Services Limited. Send feedback to email@example.com