PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s announcement that Jamaica will replace the British Monarch and implement a republican system of Government made headlines and triggered intense debate in England last week. However, the decision is not being frowned upon by Queen Elizabeth II.
“The issue of the Jamaican head of state was entirely a matter for the Jamaican Government and people,” the BBC reported a Buckingham Palace spokesman as saying on Friday.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II… issue of the Jamaican head of state was entirely a matter for the Jamaican Government and people
The Buckingham Palace position was included in the BBC’s report on Simpson Miller’s inaugural address at her swearing-in ceremony at King’s House — the official residence of the Queen’s representative, the governor general — on Thursday.
Simpson Miller, after taking the oaths of office, told the more than 8,000 guests seated on the sprawling lawns of the colonial mansion that this 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence from Britain will be a time for reflection on the lessons of the past.
“I love the Queen, she is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady she is a wise lady and a wonderful lady,” Simpson Miller said. “But I think time come.
“As we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation, we now need to complete the circle of independence. In this regard, we will, therefore, initiate the process for our detachment from the Monarchy to become a republic with our own indigenous president as head of state.”
In addition to the BBC, the report was carried on SkyTV and in the Daily Mail newspaper which, in its headline, said Jamaica intended to ‘ditch the Queen as official head of state’.
The headline, however, has not found favour with respected protocol expert and consultant Merrick Needham, who said the Mail “was definitely aggressive” and a bit unfair to Simpson Miller.
“The prime minister spoke kindly, even glowingly of Her Majesty, and was gracious in the manner in which she indicated her Government’s intention,” said Needham. “Furthermore, her announcement was nothing new, former Prime Minister [PJ] Patterson spoke similarly years ago; more recently, I believe, so did former Prime Minister [Bruce] Golding.”
Needham, who holds both British and Jamaican citizenship, said he supported the planned move to sever colonial ties to Britain and is in favour of the island having a ceremonial rather than an executive president. However, he raised an important issue that will impact on the decision — cost.
“In the short term, and our present serious financial circumstances, has anyone thought of the costs?” he asked. “As someone of considerable standing said to me only last week, such a major undertaking must be executed properly or not at all.”
According to Needham, apart from the more obvious legal and associated costs, “one of the major other items is, perhaps surprisingly to civilians, the headdress badges and rank insignia of all the personnel of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Jamaica Combined Cadet Force (JCCF), and others. This could probably well amount to the better part of 20,000 uniformed personnel”.
He said that when Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, he recalled hearing that the cost of changing the forage cap badges and shoulder-strap rank insignia of the police was somewhere between US$2.5 million and US$4 million.
“Even the lower figure of US$2.5 million at today’s exchange rates, all of nearly 15 years later, would be in the order of J$217 million,” said Needham.
“In the JCF, apart from all cap badges, from which the St Edward’s Crown must be removed, the rank insignia for all gazetted officers will need to be replaced, as all of them contain British royal emblematic factors. Similarly, in the JDF, headdress badges for both caps and berets (ie double the JCF cost per person), as well as all rank insignia for all ranks above sergeant will need replacement, except for some Coast Guard personnel. The same applies to the six battalions of the JCCF,” added Needham.
He also pointed to other items that would need to be changed, notably the Queen’s and Regimental Colours of each of the three JDF infantry battalions.
“And don’t say that these flag-like emblems are not necessary, unless you feel the same way about a preacher’s Bible,” said Needham.
He said he had heard recently of acceptable quality, but less expensive alternatives. However, “the last time I knew costs from the traditional UK suppliers of these complex, hand-crafted, silk-embroidered items, the six replacements for The Jamaica Regiment would, at that time, have cost about £60,000 or, at today’s exchange rates, about J$8 million”.
“All these costs are just lead examples,” he said, adding that “there are obviously others elsewhere”.
Those other costs could include legal bills incurred in what he described as a “massive constitutional change” that is easier said than done.
“My layman’s understanding is that at least a six-month parliamentary timetable is required in addition to the holding of a national referendum — and all that after the Government has fully formulated the proposed new republican constitution and presented it to Parliament for debate,” he said.
Despite that, Needham is optimistic about the decision which, he pointed out, has been discussed since the 1970s. “If our new prime minister can at least really get things moving, well fine,” he said. “However, she has far more immediate priorities, as she has rightly indicated. I suspect that we’ll be ‘ditching’ Her Majesty later rather than sooner.”
Prince Harry, the Queen’s grandson, is scheduled to represent her on a visit Jamaica in March. His visit, which will be his first to the island, is meant to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.