You are here
Ultimate maximum leader?
Since the “reconfiguration” of the Government, concern has been expressed at the large number of ministers in the Cabinet, and in particular the increased cost of the Executive. To me, this latter preoccupation is but the least of the concerns. It has been reported that the Prime Minister (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) is justifying her appointments by saying that, given the number of problems facing T&T at the present time, every man must be “on board.” It has been said T&T now has perhaps the largest Cabinet in the world. However, I would prefer to describe it as the “executive arm of government,” a description which would become clearer momentarily.
Today, in most countries (even those which may not have had a British Westminster orientation), “a Cabinet is that body of high officers of State, surrounding and presided over by a President, Prime Minister or head of state who meet to discuss, advise on, or decide high policy...its importance and functions varying considerably depending on the character of the nation’s constitution and political system” (Prof William S Livingston of the University of Texas in the Encyclopaedia Americana).
It should be noted that in the United Kingdom, for example: (1) lower policy decisions are generally made at the level of the “outer Cabinet,” ie, the remaining non-Cabinet members of the Government; (2) the mechanisms for carrying out the policies of the government are vested in a civil service of permanent officers and agencies whose tenure of office is preserved by well-established and accepted constitutional provisions; (3) there is a close relationship and “fusion” (according to Livingston) between the government and the Parliament as the vast majority of Cabinet members are the leaders of the government side in the House of Commons; (4) the total number of members of the Cabinet hardly exceeds 25. In the US it is even less. In both countries, the number and designations of government ministries and departments are fixed either by convention or by statute.
It should be made clear that, with the enactment of our Republican Constitution in 1976, responsibility for the administration of the departments under his/her ministry was conferred upon the minister. In these circumstances, one may inquire as to the resulting status, relative importance and the input of the permanent secretary and the senior civil servant in the matter of policy-making.
Given the background herein outlined it is clear that:
(1) Since all elected members of the House of Representatives of the Government “coalition” have now been appointed ministers, it follows that, upon being elected, a member could reasonably be expected to be appointed a minister. Indeed, it could even be concluded that when exercising their franchise, the electorate is, in effect, also nominating a candidate to the office of “minister” (or, at least, a member of the Executive, a situation which is not confined to the present administration alone as it has been in the offing for as long as I can remember).
(2) Needless to say, the situation outlined at (1) has very serious implications for the practice of parliamentary democratic government in T&T in that the government side is bereft of the “safety valve” which is inherent in the “backbencher.”
(3) Today, the number of government ministers and adherents number approximately 45, 41 of whom are members of the Executive, the same as the total membership of the House.
(4) It should be noted that in the UK House of Commons of approximately 650 members, only about 100, ie, less than one-sixth, can be expected to be appointed to the various offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State, Minister of State, parliamentary secretary and parliamentary private secretary etc. A relatively small number are appointed from the House of Lords.
(5) In light of the above, the role of the Opposition in the Parliament of T&T could hardly be underestimated. Indeed, what is required is an Opposition which is now even more vigilant and positive in ensuring that the nation’s business is conducted with integrity, fairness and efficiency. It is to ensure that “absolute power” does not “corrupt absolutely.”
No doubt, in light of these recent ministerial appointments, alarm bells have been sounded in some supposedly responsible quarters that the “separation of powers” has been eroded. It must be pointed out, however, that under the Westminster parliamentary system (to which T&T purportedly adheres), there is no recognisable separation of powers apart from the judiciary and, even this, to some extent.
This is clear from the “fusion” of the Executive and the legislature to which Livingston refers and is unlike what obtains in the US where neither the President nor members of his Cabinet can be members of either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
The overwhelming paramountcy of the Prime Minister makes him or her “primus inter pares” by far. Have we arrived at the ultimate maximum leader? Is there not a case for serious constitutional reform?
Errol OC Cupid
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.