Jamaica became an independent nation on August 6, 1962. Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy, based in a system of representative and responsible government.
The form of government is that of a constitutional monarchy. Jamaica is a unitary state and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Constitution under which Jamaica assumed Independence in 1962 is primarily based on British socio-political culture and is modelled on the Westminster-Whitehall (British) system of government.
Citizens have the right to choose, in free elections, those who will govern the country. Each citizen is subject to the “rule of law”, which means that the law of the land is supreme and that all people are equal before the law.
The structure of the government of Jamaica is outlined in the ten chapters of the Jamaica Constitution. Chapters are included on citizenship, fundamental rights and freedoms, the Governor-General, Parliament, executive powers, the Judicature, finance and the public service.
The Queen is head of state, and on the advice of the Prime Minister, she appoints a Governor-General to be her representative in Jamaica. The Governor-General must have no affiliation to any political party.
Neither the Queen nor the Governor-General has any real authority in conducting the administration of the country. Real legislative and executive responsibilities rest with the elected representatives of the people.
The Governor-General represents the Queen on ceremonial occasions such as the opening of Parliament, the presentation of honours and military parades.
Under the Constitution, he is given to act in many matters e.g. in appointing and disciplining officers of the civil service, in proroguing Parliament and so on, but only in a few cases is he empowered to act entirely on his own discretion. The Governor-General also exercises the prerogative of mercy on behalf of the Queen.
In exercising the prerogative of mercy (including the power to grant pardon to any person who has been sentenced to death), the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Jamaican Privy Council.
Privy Council of Jamaica
The Privy Council of Jamaica consists of six members who are appointed by the Governor-General, after consultation with the Prime Minister.
The functions of the Privy Council are usually limited to advising the Governor-General on the exercise of mercy and the discipline of the civil service, local government officers, and the police, in cases where appeals are made.
The Jamaican Parliament consists of two Houses – the Senate, also called the Upper House, and the House of Representatives, also known as the Lower House – and the Queen. The Governor-General represents the Queen in Parliament, and his role is a formal one. Once a year, at the official opening of Parliament, he delivers the “Throne Speech”. Beyond this, his parliamentary function is limited to his formal assent to bills passed by the two Houses of Parliament.
The maximum life of Parliament is five years, at the end of which Parliament must be dissolved and a general election held. However, the Prime Minister may advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament at any time within the five years and name the date for a general election. Also, Parliament must be dissolved and a general election held if a majority of all the members of the House of Representatives supports a no-confidence motion against the Government.
The Senate is a nominated House made up of 21 senators. Thirteen senators are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The other eight are appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.
Not more than four ministers can be appointed from the Senate, and they may have portfolio responsibilities. The Senate usually functions as a review chamber, considering bills passed by the House of Representatives. But the Senate may also initiate legislation, except money bills. It cannot delay money bills for more than one month nor any other Bill for more than seven months.
At the first meeting of a newly-appointed Senate, or when there is a vacancy, senators elect a President and a Deputy President. A minister or parliamentary secretary may not hold office as President or Deputy President.
House of Representatives
The House of Representatives may consist of 60 members (the maximum allowed by the Constitution), elected by single-member constituencies on the first-past-the-post basis.
The Government in power can only exist if it has the support of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives.
In practice, most bills are initiated in the House of Representatives.
No Bill may become law unless it is passed by the majority of the members present in the House. The quorum of the House is 16 in addition to the person presiding.
The House of Representatives has control over the Government’s finances. Funds cannot be granted nor taxation levied without the approval of the House.