I must write on an issue that has been making headlines lately and it has to do with the 40 million dollar allocation that has been given to the Office of the Governor-General for the purpose of installing a new elevator in the building and also for the purchase of a new vehicle and the backlash it has received particularly on social media.
Let me start out by point out that I do support some of the comments made regarding the nature of the expense, $40 million is an exorbitant sum and quite frankly I must question whether or not there was a better way this money could have been allocated, for example the state of hospitals can be described as deplorable, several educational institutions are in dire need of an upgrade and not to mention the far way such a sum could go in dealing with any of these, or at the very least in part. And given the public outcry I do believe that the government should reconsider this proposal, after all its not as if government expenditure hasn’t been adjustment in years before now, so yes they can revisit that one or try to find a way to cut cost in order to make it more economical.
That said, while I do agree with those who are not in favour of the expense. There are some only too quick the use the opportunity to promote a republican agenda, therefore the air must be cleared as to some of the misinformation out there. First of all is the notion that the getting rid of the Governor-General would get rid of that expense in the budget is totally and utterly false. In fact if the Governor-General were to be gotten rid of tomorrow then a President would immediately take his place as head of state and the expense would remain either the same or it would be increased. There is statistical data that shows this, for example the President of Trinidad earns US $ 114, 224 per annum, whereas in Jamaica, the Governor-General cost per annum is US $ 58,159. Another example can be drawn between the cases of Haiti and Barbados, whereas in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere their president has a salary of US$60,000 per annum, the Governor general of the much wealthier Barbados earns US$ 49,214.50 per annum. What exactly is the point I’m trying to drill here, contrary to popular belief there is actually no evidence to point to the supposition that a presidency would be cheaper, in fact what the researchable data does show is that the governor general costs far less to maintain than it would be under a president.
Another area of misinformation that must be addressed is the matter of the official residence. It has been assumed by some that if the Crown were gotten rid of, the King’s House would either be demolished or the property could be developed into a real estate area or factory, museum or whatever else one can dream of. This supposition is based on wishful thinking however not reality, in fact the most likely outcome would be the name of the building would be changed to reflect the new status quo and the property itself would continue to serve as the seat of highest office in the land. Again there is a precedent to support this claim. For example in India, Rashtrapati Bhavan which used to serve as the residence of the Viceroy of British India has since 1950 been the residence of the President of modern India. Similarly Áras an Uachtaráin which now serves as the palace of the President of the Irish Republic used to be the Viceregal Lodge of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under British rule. And these are not isolated cases either instead this has been tradition in many Commonwealth countries where the palace of the former royal representative has been converted to a presidential palace and in most of these cases, their functions and operations continue almost exactly as they did before, especially in cases where the former governor general was himself appointed as the new President. This then serves as overwhelming evidence to prove that any notion that becoming a republic would cause King’s House to scale down its cost and operations is actually a fallacy, rooted in supposition and not fact.
And while on the matter of the presidential residence lets discuss the nature of the presidency itself where there it is commonly thought that becoming a republic would cause us to move to a US styled presidential model, where the Prime Minister himself would assume the presidency thus absorbing the cost. While this has been done in some Commonwealth states, there again is no evidence to prove that it will happen here. Truthfully every proposal that is made on this constitutional change is based on the Westminster system where the head of state and head of government remain as separate offices. In other words then, there is no real suggestion to have an executive presidency but rather a ceremonial one, that has been the position taken by most republican proponents who really don’t have an issue with a parliamentary form of government only with the Queen’s name being on it, in short they wish to have all the benefits of a constitutional monarchy without having an actual monarchy.
Speaking of monarchy, it grieves me to see the level of ignorance of what the constitution actually says. Nowhere in our laws does it state that governor general is appointed by the British government, which would be a gross violation of the constitution and the Jamaica Independence Act. The Governor General of Jamaica is not and has never been an agent of the United Kingdom, the law makes it perfectly plain that only the Government of Jamaica can advise a Queen on the appointment of a Governor General and only they can advise her to dismiss one. Nor can Her Majesty take it upon herself to appoint a representative in a unilateral manner since to do would be a violation of her own coronation oath to govern according to established laws and customs. The reason for this misconception is of course a lack of understanding on the concept of the Commonwealth Realms, where more than one sovereign state agree to share the same monarch and adopt common succession rules. This shared monarchy is not and should be confused with colonial subjugation since any of states can opt out of the arrangement and any changes to the arrangement has to mutually agreed upon by all member states as was seen in 2011 Perth Agreement where the rules on succession could not be changed unless all the countries approved the proposed changes. There is no legal or constitutional arrangement for the governor general to answer to the British authorities, I would have thought the fact that he was a born and bred citizen of Jamaica would have made this fact painfully obvious to all.
To conclude, I’ll reiterate my own opposition to the planned spending increases at King’s House and I still stand in support of those who propose that the funds be diverted to more salient causes. However unlike some I would rather vent my displeasure that those who proposed this spending in the first place rather (i.e. the finance ministry and its technocrats), rather than confuse the issue by ranting about how we “need a president now”. Quite frankly given what I see happening in the world’s most famous presidential office now, the idea that Jamaica could develop into such a system scares me to no end, and I would therefore urge that any discussion on this going forward are grounded in empirical facts and not in mere emotional tirades .