Reforming Parliament – CONSTITUTION REPORT

THE Constitutional Reform Commission has recommended some radical changes in the way members of Cabinet are selected under a proposed new St Lucia constitution.

Under that new system being proposed the only member of the Executive branch who will belong to both the Legislature and the Executive will be the Prime Minister.

The following is the second part of Chapter 5 of the Commission’s report, headed REFORMING OUR PARLIAMENT:

In assessing the current method of selection to the Cabinet, Commissioners noted that the provisions of the Constitution permit the Prime Minister to select defeated candidates for appointment to the Senate and they were also frequently appointed to the Cabinet of Ministers.

The majority of Commissioners accepted the status quo on the grounds that Saint Lucia like other resource starved countries, suffers from a critical mass problem. Consequently the majority of Commissioners opined that the retention of this constitutional and political practice, will allow Prime Ministers to appoint Ministers from among defeated candidates as well as persons who did not contest elections and are available for service. There was a strong minority view against this recommendation, on the grounds that one of the most frequent submissions received from the public was that this should not occur. The minority felt that the wishes of Saint Lucians should be respected. The majority also felt that rejection at the polls did not mean the public disapproved of possible appointment as a Minister, especially as Saint Lucians at home and abroad thought that Ministers of Government should be separated from the legislative branch of Government. In the majority’s view therefore, the material basis for this recommendation remains.

In any event the Commission felt that, given the proposed reform of the political model, the Legislative branch of Government would be adequate to give the right to approve/ratify Prime Ministerial appointments to the Cabinet. This would be sufficient to guard against abuse. Under the proposed system the House of Assembly may also pass motions of no confidence in the Ministers. Any motion that is successful can be reviewed by the Prime Minister for him/her to make a determination as to whether to dismiss that Minister from the Government. That will be a political judgement call for the Prime Minister at the bar of public opinion.

In establishing a Government, the Prime Minister must ensure that apart from himself/herself that the following other Ministers are included in the Cabinet, namely the Attorney General, the Minister of National Security, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Finance. These portfolios are considered essential to the operation of a Government at minimum. In respect of the Attorney General, it was felt that the existing system of having a political Attorney General should continue. However, many Commissioners felt that the qualifications of the Attorney General deserved special attention. For that reason, a group within the Commission felt that the Attorney General should have the same qualifications of a High Court Judge. While the Commission recognised that this would significantly reduce the pool of persons from whom the Prime Minister can chose, the Commission felt that this recommendation was a way to address the numerous concerns from the public about the competence of persons occupying the position.

The recommended hybrid model, while not fully embracing the American presidential political form, recognises the need to engage in some level of separation of the important functions and personnel of Government. We note that the presidential form is seductive with its fixed date of elections, its functional and personnel spread, however we can agree with Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution: The Cabinet, that: “The American Government calls itself a Government of the supreme people; but at a quick crisis, the time when a sovereign power is most needed, you cannot find the supreme people. You have got a congress elected for one fixed period…which cannot be accelerated or retarded – you have a president chosen for a fixed period, and immovable during that period: all of the arrangements are for stated times. There is no elastic element, everything is rigid, specified, dated. Come what may, you can quicken nothing and retard nothing. You have bespoken your Government in advance, and whether it suits you or not, whether it works well or works ill, whether it is what you want or not, by law you must keep it ….

Even in quiet times, Government by a president is … inferior to Government by a cabinet; but the difficulty of quiet times is nothing as compared with the difficulty of unquiet times. The comparative deficiencies of the regular, common operation of a presidential Government are far less than the comparative deficiencies in time of sudden trouble – the want of elasticity, the impossibility of a dictatorship, the total absence of a revolutionary reserve.”

With respect to the separation of powers, the Commission recommends the following: (64) There should be the creation of a mixed model of Government with a different kind of Executive branch, to that which currently prevails. Under that new system the only member of the Executive branch who will belong to both the Legislature and the Executive will be the Prime Minister. However, the Deputy Prime Minister will serve as a member of Cabinet without ministerial authority except when deputising for the Prime Minister. To this end, he/she will be appointed on the basis of his ability to command the support of a majority of elected Members of Parliament and he/she will appoint Ministers. If a minister is selected from Parliament, he/she must subsequently resign as a Member of Parliament, to take up the post of Minister.

(65) The Prime Minister will remain accountable to Parliament and can be removed by a motion of no confidence there, but his Ministers will be vicariously accountable through a summons that will be issued to them by parliamentary committees and the presiding officers of both Houses to appear there as and when their presence is desired or required.

(66) The appointment of any Minister from the House of Assembly will require a substitute Member of Parliament to replace the Member of Parliament for the constituency that the Minister previously represented.

(67) In order to effect this, one option is political parties can be required under the new constitutional arrangement to name running mates for all constituencies that are being contested in general elections or bye elections and independent candidates will be required to name a substitute if they contest an election.

(68) If at a future date there is the desire to appoint one of the M.P’s as a Minister, then the running mate will be sworn into office as the Member of Parliament for that constituency.

(69) Alternatively, a bye-election can be held to fill the vacancy created by the appointment of an elected member of Parliament to the Executive branch.

(70) The retention of the constitutional and political practice of appointing anyone including defeated electoral candidates to the Cabinet. This will allow Prime Ministers the same opportunities to ensure that their current availability of ministerial talent will remain intact.

(71) The Legislative branch of Government should be given the right to approve/ratify Prime Ministerial appointments to the Cabinet.

(72) In establishing a Government, the Prime Minister must ensure that apart from himself/herself, every Cabinet at a minimum consist of the following: the Attorney General,the Minister of National Security, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Finance.

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