Who is Ja­maican enough?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Th­waites is mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Kingston Cen­tral and op­po­si­tion spokesman on ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Email feed­back to columns@glean­erjm.com.

WE UN­DER­STAND the English lan­guage. We speak it some­what. We are an is­land na­tion liv­ing in the un­der­arm of the Amer­i­cas. For as long as we have known our­selves, our peo­ple have been com­ing and go­ing to other coun­tries seek­ing work, the op­por­tu­nity to study, gen­er­ally to bet­ter them­selves, given the real and per­ceived lim­i­ta­tions of our is­land’s econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

Ex­cept for some, go­ing has not meant shak­ing the Ja­maican dust off their feet. Ja­maican dis­tinc­tive­ness – of man­ner­ism, speech, faith and taste – have most of­ten been re­tained as em­blems of iden­tity in ‘for­eign’; of­ten passed on to gen­er­a­tions.

Years ago, as a stu­dent in Eng­land, I mar­velled at the fact that Ja­maicans were in­volved in every imag­in­able type of in­dus­try serv­ing their im­mi­grant com­mu­nity ex­cept one: at the time there were no Ja­maican mor­ti­cians. The rea­son­ing was that would be lit­tle cus­tom, for most ev­ery­one had the mind of an ex­ile and har­boured thoughts of re­turn­ing to the Rock.

Surely over time, as­pi­ra­tions have changed, new cit­i­zen­ships ac­quired but loy­al­ties per­dure. In this truly global real­ity, all of us have over­seas con­nec­tions, Ja­maicans repa­tri­ate a life­line of bil­lions in for­eign ex­change each year, and ‘Trump­ism’ and other kinds of na­tivism not­with­stand­ing, the lines at the for­eign em­bassies and high com­mis­sions will con­tinue to be lengthy.

Let us ac­cept the fact that mi­gra­tion will be a con­tin­u­ing fea­ture of our so­ci­ety and that tak­ing a for­eign na­tion­al­ity is not nec­es­sar­ily nor or­di­nar­ily an act of dis­qual­i­fy­ing dis­loy­alty to Ja­maica.

Please do not let us find our­selves in the same self­de­struc­tive predica­ment as has hap­pened last week in Aus­tralia where, in a na­tion of nearly half-re­cent im­mi­grants, an out­dated law pre­vent­ing even those who un­know­ingly have in­her­ited an­other na­tion­al­ity has am­bushed an entire gov­ern­ment.

Ja­maica needs a wealth of na­tive tal­ent to guide and fuel eq­ui­table and swift de­vel­op­ment. Peo­ple who have lived abroad of­ten avoid the ex­cesses of trib­al­ism and nar­row­ness in which we wal­low.

Many of our ci­ti­zens who would be well qual­i­fied to of­fer ex­cel­lent pub­lic ser­vice go abroad, now mostly to North Amer­ica, but still some to the United King­dom to study, work and cre­ate wealth. While there, many are likely to ac­quire cit­i­zen­ship to se­cure so­cial se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, for the sake of af­ford­ing ed­u­ca­tion or for the ad­van­tage of their chil­dren. Do­ing so should not, by that act only, be a source of alien­ation, of di­min­ish­ing an im­por­tant right of a Ja­maican ci­ti­zen, that of seek­ing to rep­re­sent his or her coun­try­men.


Of course, the fear is of the jour­ney­man who could set pol­icy in Ja­maica and fly off to his other coun­try and never bear the brunt of the hard­ship he has helped im­pose. Then there are those who imag­ine the du­al­ci­t­i­zen MP con­flict of in­ter­est if con­flict were to ‘bruk out’ between his two states.

While there are those who would at­tach some le­git­i­macy to such and other con­cerns, by far the greater good to be grasped would be to widen the catch­ment of ci­ti­zens el­i­gi­ble to serve.

When the Ja­maican Con­sti­tu­tion was be­ing crafted al­most three gen­er­a­tions ago, the framers were con­ser­va­tively anx­ious to de­fine a ma­trix of gov­er­nance which re­sem­bled the West­min­ster model to which we were ac­cus­tomed.

Times have changed now, and be­ing a ci­ti­zen of any part of Queen Vic­to­ria’s now-de­funct em­pire, upon which the sun never set, can­not, af­ter a mere year of res­i­dence, qual­ify to gov­ern us while a bona fide Jamer­i­can is ex­cluded as some kind of con­flicted stranger.

So let us change the Con­sti­tu­tion to read that qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Par­lia­ment re­quires some­one to be a Ja­maican ci­ti­zen, ar­guably with a res­i­dence re­quire­ment, and then, I re­spect­fully fol­low Bruce Gold­ing: Let the vot­ers de­cide who they think will make good laws and rep­re­sent them ad­e­quately.

They can best de­ter­mine who is Ja­maican enough to qual­ify.

Also, since it is clear that there must be a con­tin­u­ing and in­creas­ing part­ner­ship with Ja­maican ci­ti­zens liv­ing abroad to achieve the high­est de­vel­op­ment goals, it is both moral and prac­ti­cal that in a gen­eral scheme of con­sti­tu­tional re­form, three seats in an ex­panded Se­nate should be re­served for them.

Where would the two ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties stand in re­la­tion to the pro­pos­als sketched here? Once again, the habits, move­ments and sen­ti­ments of or­di­nary Ja­maicans are prob­a­bly ahead of the po­lit­i­cal class.

To leave these matters as they are will be akin to cut­ting off our noses to spite our faces.

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