The Jamaica Observer published yesterday my letter on this question. Funnily, I’d written it the evening before and sent it at about 7pm. So, seeing it published the next morning was a bit of a surprise. I hope the government take the questions seriously. The one point that really bothers me is what I believe is an arbitrary threshold and one that is set ridiculously high, in terms of the percentage of population that is set as the trigger. That has the inevitable result of making ‘reasonable’ support that is lower than the threshold seem like ‘insufficient’ support.
What is the Government trying to achieve with its posting online of various petitions?
The Jamaica Observer article titled ‘Few Jamaicans buying into OPM petitions’, published September 27, 2017, suggests it’s to give about “1.5 million” Jamaicans on social media the opportunity to raise concerns of national interest with the Government. But what about the approximately 1.5 million Jamaicans not on social media? Why exclude them by, say, not issuing or offering equivalent paper petitions for people to sign?
I admit, though, that having a web page to which people can go is much simpler than finding time and people to manage the process of soliciting signatures from citizens.
I’m also bewildered as to why the Government has chosen a threshold of 15,000 online signatures, which is about 0.5 per cent of the population. It’s no argument to say that it was lowered from 30,000. As far as I can see, this threshold is arbitrary. It is also high in proportionate terms. The USA has several thresholds for government responses to petitions, but its ultimate threshold of 100,000 is about only 0.03 per cent of their approximately 320 million population? However, the UK also has 100,000 signatures to force a petition to be discussed in Parliament, which is 0.15 per cent of its 65 million population. Why do Jamaicans have to plead so hard, relative to some other countries, to get its Government to take notice?
A cynic could give several answers. A cynic could also easily conclude that the Government is making a measly attempt to suggest it is garnering public support for issues, and if the threshold is not met that people do not care enough. This is pure fallacy. Our caring for issues has nothing to do with our willingness to sign petitions. That care is displayed in many other ways.
Further, why is the Government displacing itself by putting issues to the public in this way? In our representational governance system, nationally elected officials are there to take decisions on our behalf and to argue the merits of these through our legislature. Why is the Government not displaying how it cares about issues by drafting legislation and seeing how they pass through Parliament? Of course, we can argue about how representative a Government of a one-seat majority can be. But why is the Government proposing some matters for parliamentary consideration and yet putting others to some quasi-referendum?
I’m utterly confused.