MPs Should Not Be In Cabinet

The late Justice Suzie d'Auvergne

Constitution Commission Report.

The late Justice Suzie d'Auvergne chaired the Commission
The late Justice Suzie d’Auvergne chaired the Commission

The constitutional Reform Commission has recommended increasing the size of the Senate from 11 to 13 members.

It has recommended that members of the House of Assembly and the Senate apart from the Prime Minister and his deputy will no longer be members of the Cabinet.

We continue serializing the report of the Constitutional reform Commission, looking at Chapter 5: REFORMING OUR PARLIAMENT:

The Commission advocates the creation of a hybrid parliamentary – presidential constitution with parliamentarism being the dominant force. This system would be unique in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

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Under this system, the Prime Minister would select Ministers who may emerge from Parliament but who must subsequently resign their position in the Parliament. In doing so, the elected Members of Parliament would only hold their positions as constituency representatives and as legislators. The hope is that this would lead to the development of professional legislators who could devote time to the scrutiny of legislation and provide oversight of the Executive through committees, while at the same time devoting themselves to the demands of their constituencies.

The objective here will be to create a greater check and balance against the exercise of excessive power. There will no longer be a parliament dominated by the executive since members of the executive branch will now be prevented from being members of the legislative branch with the exception of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

This will create a more level political situation in relation to the separation of powers in which the dominance of the Cabinet over the Parliament will be diminished. Persons who seek to stand for election as a Member of the House of Assembly or are appointed to the Senate will be doing so on the basis that they will not also be entitled to become Ministers. These persons will be seeking to become parliamentarians, not Ministers.

The availability of more Parliamentarians to perform legislative roles as distinct from executive roles as Ministers can lead to more powerful committee oversight of Executive action by these Parliamentarians. In order to ensure that committee membership is seen to be attractive, the Standing Orders of Parliament will have to be amended to ensure a new level of functionality and legislators will have to be regarded as full-time servants of the State.

The position of a committee chairperson will have to become reasonably attractive under the new constitution in respect of the level of power that will be exercised so that persons who are willing to serve will come forward to be selected as candidates for their parties. Under the current system, the main attraction is that if one is elected or selected to Parliament, one can become a Minister.

Under these proposed reforms, that will no longer necessarily be the case.

With the emphasis in the creation of this hybrid being placed upon creating a more rigid separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature, Parliament will play a renewed role as a scrutineer of Executive action. Ministers will now be required to attend committee hearings to discuss their portfolios under cross-examination from parliamentary committees which will not only retain accountability to Parliament on their part, but also create a new method of accountability.

Political competition inside and outside of political parties will create a different environment for scrutiny in which performance will have to be enhanced on the part of Ministers because of the type of cross-examination that they will have to undergo from their own colleagues as well as those opposed to them.

Some Effects of Hybridization
The retention of the bicameral system will ensure that there will be diversity in the different chambers of Parliament for hearings as well as the increased use of joint select committees for oversight with all special departmental committees consisting of members from the House of Assembly and at least one or two Senators.

The retention of a nominated Senate will ensure that the House of Assembly will be dominant over the Senate by virtue of the fact that the latter is elected and the former is nominated. When coupled with the retention of the Prime Minister as a member of the House of Assembly, the effect will be to make the House of Assembly and whoever controls an effective majority in it, the effective power broker under the proposed constitution.

There will now be a diversity of Committees which will lead to the establishment of three types of committees, namely (i) departmental oversight; (ii) standing committees; and, (iii) ad hoc committees. With the creation of special departmental joint select committees for oversight of Government Ministries and Departments and the Service Commissions, there will be the need for the Standing Orders of Parliament to be amended once the Constitution has been changed to recognise such committees.

The continuation of the existing oversight committees such as the Public Accounts Committee and other Standing Committees of both Houses and the specific committees for each House that currently exist such as the Privileges Committee and others will give them new meaning as the business of both Houses will be addressed by persons who are legislators only and not ministers.

This will change the culture of the operations of both Houses of Parliament.

This new and enhanced role of scrutiny for the Parliament will provide a basis for the introduction of some elements of the Washington model, insofar as the appointment of ministers is concerned.

The power of the Prime Minister to appoint whomsoever the Prime Minister wishes to be a Minister will be shared in such a way that the Prime Minister nominates Ministers and a majority of Members of the Parliament will ratify those nominations. This will be a new role for the House of Assembly and it will mean that the Cabinet can only be appointed after the Parliament has been summoned and the Members of Parliament take their oaths of office.49

With respect to hybridization, the Commission recommends the following:
(73) With the exception of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, Members of the House of Assembly and the Senate will no longer be members of the Cabinet.
(74) The House of Assembly should scrutinise and ratify nominations made by the Prime Minister for persons to be appointed as ministers.
(75) Special Parliamentary Committees should be created as joint select committees to oversee Government ministries, departments, agencies and Service Commissions.
(76) Ministers will be directly accountable to Parliamentary Committees.
(77) These committees will summon ministers to appear to be questioned on matters of executive policy, proposed legislation and administrative functions of their ministries.
(78) Nomination of Ministers should be after Parliament has met for the first sitting.
49 This will be the subject of further discussion in Chapter Six.

The Senate
The Commission would like to see an increase in the size of the Senate from eleven (11) to thirteen
(13) Senators. The revised formula for the Senate will be seven (7) Senators appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, (3) three Senators appointed on the advice of the Minority Leader, and three (3) Senators appointed by the President in his/her own deliberate judgement from among such groups or organisations or from such fields of endeavour as the President thinks fit.

The Commission received a submission that the role of the Senate and the role of the President of the Senate should be outlined in the Constitution. Further, the view was expressed that the Senate should take on an informational role in which it actually explores issues and presents them to the public. This role could be expressed through town hall meetings, chat rooms, public lectures, or the Internet, before the parliamentary stage.

In an effort to separate the Legislature and the Executive, there was a submission that the number of members of the Executive in the Senate should be restricted. A further submission proposed that the Senate should comprise expertise that can give legislative measures the scrutiny that they deserve in order to ensure the creation of a Senate that will function with a higher level of scrutiny than exists under the current Constitution.

In discussion, the Commission felt that to spell out the role of the Senate may in some way create conflict and could possibly prove to be destructive to the legislative process. Additionally, having the Senate take on an informational role could prove controversial.

With respect to the Senate, the Commission recommends the following
(79) That the status quo in terms of the role of the Senate should be retained.
(80) The Senate should comprise expertise among its members that can give Bills the scrutiny that would enhance the process of approval.
(81) An increase in the number of Senators from eleven (11) to thirteen (13).
(82) The revised formula for the Senate should be seven (7) Senators appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, three (3) Senators appointed on the advice of the Minority Leader, and three (3) Senators appointed by the President in his/her own deliberate judgement.

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