KINGSTON, Jamaica – The Jamaica government Wednesday indicated that the island would not be transitioning from a constitutional monarchy to republican status in time for its 60th anniversary of independence on August 6th, this year.
“The constitution sets out its own process for amendment and we cannot deviate from it. The commitment of the prime minister to transition Jamaica away from a constitutional monarchy is one that will be kept but I know persons are wondering whether we will have it done in time for the celebration of Jamaica 60,” said Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Marlene Malahoo-Forte.
“Unfortunately, the procedure set out in the constitution will not permit that timing to be met,” she told the post Cabinet news conference, noting that in order to remove deeply entrenched provisions from the constitution, specific steps must be followed, including notice periods that must be observed and a referendum that must take place.
The former attorney general told reporters that deeply entrenched provisions of the constitution require a two-thirds vote of the members of both houses of Parliament as well as a referendum.
“Additionally, before a bill seeking to amend an entrenched provision even comes up for debate, there is the requirement of a three-month period between the date when the bill is tabled in the House and the commencement of debate.”
Last month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that Jamaica intends to break ties with the British monarchy and fulfill “its true ambitions as an independent, developed and prosperous country” in short order.
“Jamaica is a very free and liberal country. The people are very expressive, and I’m certain you would have seen the spectrum of expressions. We are very proud of our history and what we have achieved, and we are moving on.”
He said there are issues that remain unresolved but noted that the visit of the Duke and Duchess provides an opportunity “for those issues to be placed in context and put front and center to be addressed”.
Holness’ notice that Jamaica will remove the Queen as Head of State and become a republic comes four months after Barbados officially took the step.
But Malahoo-Forte told reporters that “even if the bill were to be tabled, you would have May, June, July before any debate could commence because that is what the constitution says. After the debate is concluded, you also need another three months before the bill can be passed in the House.
“If you take away nothing else, it’s to understand that we have to go through a constitutional process to achieve the goal of moving Jamaica from a constitutional monarchy to a republic and in Jamaica we have constitutional primacy; whatever we do must be in accordance with the constitution,” she said.
However she is promising to say more when she makes her contribution to the Sectoral Debate in May.
She also said that while persons are seeking to compare Jamaica with Barbados which ditched the Queen as its head of state last November for republic status, the constitutional provisions of the two countries are different.
“Unlike Jamaica they did not require a vote from the people [referendum] to make that important change in their constitution,” she told reporters.