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Jamaica News - Real Estate - Politics (February 21, 2005)
Golding sets agenda - wants limit on gov't powers
Bruce Golding yesterday formally assumed the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party and immediately placed high on the party's agenda big constitutional issues, such as the radical restructuring of the government, which he advocated during his seven years with the now comatose National Democratic Movement (NDM).

He also called for wide regional discussion, involving government, Opposition parties and civil society groups, on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which several regional countries want to establish as the final court of appeal. The Privy Council this month ruled that Jamaica's approach to setting up the court was unconstitutional.

At the same time Golding invited the government to sign off with the Opposition, for speedy implementation, on a raft of constitutional issues on which there is already agreement and which would help to enhance the quality of governance in Jamaica.

These include:

- the charter of rights, which is currently before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament;

- the impeachment of public officials so that persons in positions of public trust can be removed from office;

- appointment of Services Commissions for the judiciary and the police, which still requires bi-partisan consensus;

- a citizens' protection bureau to defend the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens and seek redress, where necessary;

- judicial review of the decisions of the Director of Public Prosecutions, on which the government and the Opposition have already agreed on the need to amend the constitution;

- constitutional protection for local government, which already has bi-partisan agreement; and

- the creation of the electoral commission, as envisaged when the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) was founded in the 1970s.

"We are ready to sit down with the government not only on these issues, but on any matter that will advance the interests of the people of Jamaica," Golding said in his maiden speech as leader of the JLP.

He was declared the party's leader at the JLP's delayed annual conference, in the absence of a challenge after the other contender for the job, Pearnel Charles, dropped out, having earlier gone to court to question the validity of the delegates list that was to be used in the vote.

But Golding, who gave an issues-laced, hour-long address, was all but upstaged by his predecessor, Edward Seaga, who made a grand, late entrance to the National Arena. Seaga had said he would not attend the conference because the organisers had treated him with discourtesy.

But even that couldn't take away from Golding's meteoric rise to the leadership of the party, a mere 29 months since re-entry after an absence of seven years.

When Golding, then Seaga's heir-apparent, left the JLP in 1995 to form the NDM, his key platform was constitutional reform, with specific emphasis on separation of powers, apparently along the lines of the US model.

The discussion of these and other reform issues, was part of a deal brokered with Seaga when Golding rejoined the JLP on the eve of the 2002 general elections, but in the tumultuous period since then - during which most of Seaga's key supporters were pried from key party positions and he himself was increasingly isolated - not much seems to have happened.

But yesterday, with Prime Minister P J Patterson having invited the Opposition for talks on a series of constitutional issues, including how to proceed with the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Golding highlighted his own priorities.

Patterson suggested Jamaica's move to republican status be among the agenda items for the talks, but did not define what model he had in mind.

Golding, who favours a clear separation between the executive and the legislature, warned that changing the title of governor general to president, if that was what Patterson had in mind, would have no effect on the quality of governance. "We would have betrayed the people," he said.

He did, however, concede that contrary views to a direct separation of powers existed in the JLP. Nonetheless, the party was firmly agreed on the need to reduce the concentration of power in the hands of the government and make it more accountable to Parliament and the people, Golding said.

"We have to ensure that no minister can be allowed to 'run with it', and no government must ever be allowed to run up the national debt in 16 years from $30 billion to $760 billion," the new JLP leader said.

He suggested two approaches that could be examined:

- one was the separation of power to balance power between the government and the Parliament and leave the determination of the effectiveness of that separation to the people;

- the other was a reconfigured Westminster model, but limiting the power of the executive and entrenching that limitation in the Constitution.

"We will, as a matter of urgency, be deliberating on these important issues within the party and we intend to place them on the table for discussions with the government," Golding said.

Among the other issues that Golding wants placed on the agenda for talks are proposals for the recall of elected officials, the establishment of the officer of Prosecutor General to investigate and prosecute corruption, government financing for political parties and fixed election dates.

On the CCJ, Golding said that the JLP would go ahead with the discussions with the government on Jamaica's approach to its appellate jurisdiction. The court is to also have original jurisdiction in interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chauguaramas that will establish the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) among Caribbean Community (Caricom) members.

However, he noted that the JLP was not the only institution with concerns about the proposed court and called for regional dialogue on the issue.

"Some of them may have concerns different from ours," Golding said. "We want to hear them. If those concerns can't be resolved, then let's go to the people by way of a referendum, because it is they who must have the final say."

Patterson had placed on the agenda for talks the possibility of capital punishment, but in yesterday's speech Golding highlighted a governing People's National Party proposal in its manifesto for the 2002 general election for a constitutional change which would allow the hanging of persons after five years on death row.

The Privy Council had imposed the five-year limit in its 1990s Pratt and Morgan ruling. That decision did not prevent the carrying out of the death penalty, Golding said. "You don't need to circumvent the Privy Council ruling, Mr Prime Minister. What you need is to fix the court system."

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