Curbing The Power of The P.M.


THE Constitutional Reform Commission believes that it is It is the domination of the political process by the Prime Minister and the party in power that has led many to seek ways to curb that dominance without compromising the ability of governments to govern.

Today we begin looking at Chapter Six of the Commission’s report:

The Report of the Marlborough House Conference in 1978 reveals the following discussion under the heading “The Executive” from paragraphs 21 to 24:

“21. Opposition proposals that the Prime Minister should have to be a person born in St. Lucia of St. Lucia parents, and that he should not serve more than 10 years consecutively were not accepted. It was observed that as an elected member of the House of Assembly the Prime Minister would already be a citizen of St. Lucia.

22. It should be mandatory on the Governor-General (rather than within his discretion as at present provided) to remove the Prime Minister after a resolution of no confidence in the Government had been passed by the House of Assembly.

23. Consequential amendments should be included on the lines of those proposed in the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Assembly to take account of the possibility of there being no elected member of the Opposition, in which case the Governor-General would be enabled to act on his own deliberate judgement in matters where otherwise he would be required to consult the Leader of the Opposition. The Governor-General would also have the power to decide whom to appoint as Leader of the Opposition when there was doubt about which elected member commanded the most support among those elected members who did not support the Government.

24. There should be provision in the constitution for appointment of a political Attorney General at the option of the Government.”

The continuation of the dialogue that was started at the Marlborough House Conference about term limits for and the Powers of, the Prime Minister were once again considered by the Commission in active debate.

Submissions were received that term limits be established for the Prime Minister as Head of the Executive. The majority of the submissions were for two (2) terms not exceeding ten (10) years. The Commission held differing views on this matter. Some saw term limits as undemocratic, while those who agreed with term limits felt that and that after two (2) consecutive terms there should be a hiatus of at least one term before the individual is qualified to take up the office again.

Term Limits for the Prime Minister
The fascination with American presidential techniques, particularly in relation to term limits for the Prime Minister and fixed dates for elections for the Parliament appear not only to be a fixation with the Washington model, but also a fixation with trying to limit the considerable powers of the Prime Minister in Westminster-style constitutional systems.

As far as term limits for the office of the Prime Minister is concerned, this will be more difficult to regulate in a parliamentary system as the post-independence political history of Saint Lucia has shown. With the appointment of eight (8) different persons as Prime Minister over a period of twenty-eight years, there is no compelling argument for term limits other than the fact that Sir John Compton held the office so many times after independence.

What clearly complicates the measurement of this is the fact that the term of office of a Prime Minister of Saint Lucia is not broken if the party that he/she leads is successful at a general election. Section 60(7) of the Saint Lucia Constitution55 , confirms this as follows:

“If, at any time between the holding of a general election of members of the House and the first meeting of the House thereafter, the Governor-General considers that in consequence of changes in the membership of the House resulting from that election the Prime Minister will not be able to command the support of the majority of the members of the House the Governor-General may remove the Prime Minister from office.”

Such a constitutional arrangement emphasises incumbency and only places the burden for the removal of the Prime Minister from office if the Governor-General is satisfied that as a result of the outcome of a general election the Prime Minister would be unlikely to command the support of a majority of the members of the House of Assembly.

It is for this reason that there was no need to appoint Honourable John Compton (later Sir John) in 1987 and in 1992. The same applied to Dr. the Honourable Kenny D. Anthony in 2001. Essentially, Sir John really served only one term between 1982 and his resignation in 1996 owing to the wording of the Constitution. The same can be said for Dr. the Honourable Kenny D. Anthony between 1997 and 2006.

Additionally, the desire for fixed dates for elections has arisen out of the number of times that there have been general elections in Saint Lucia. With eight (8) general elections in twenty-seven (27) years, one may argue that with fixed dates for elections the arithmetic would have been very different as forty (40) years would have had to elapse.

However, Saint Lucia has a provision in its Constitution at Section 55(4)(a) for the GovernorGeneral to refuse the request of a Prime Minister for a dissolution of Parliament. It appears that this provision has not been invoked since independence and will provide a stronger basis for seeking fixed dates for elections in any reforms that may be undertaken to give effect to such a desire. It is the domination of the political process by the Prime Minister and the party in power that has led many to seek ways to curb that dominance without compromising the ability of governments to govern. At the same time, Saint Lucians are all too familiar with the instability associated with political infighting and turmoil as we saw between 1979 and 1982 and also between 2006 and 2007.

The challenge is to provide for political stability while enhancing the institutions of scrutiny that can make governments more accountable to the population without hampering their ability to govern.

To this end, the hope is that institutional change will bring with it altered political behaviour and the emergence of a different political culture.

Once more we can see that this represents the importation of the presidential technique of limiting the terms of office of the Prime Minister. The issue has been around for a while. It was directly considered by the Constitution Review Commission under the chairmanship of the Right

Honourable Sir Hugh Wooding in Trinidad and Tobago during the period 1971 – 74. The Wooding Constitution Commission took a hostile view of it in paragraph 284 of its 1974 Report as follows:

“We considered and rejected the suggestion that a limit should be placed on the number of terms which any person may serve as Prime Minister. Essentially at any general election voters choose the party which they wish to form the Government.

It seems to us unthinkable to impose any restrictions on the number of successive terms which any party could win. Once that is conceded, it would seem to be wrong in principle to place a restriction on the party’s choice of leadership. This could have a significant effect on their chances of winning the elections.

Compelling them to change their leader may, in effect, reduce their chances of success. We do not think that any useful purpose can be served from a study of the experience of the United States of America and some Latin American countries where the choice of President is essentially the choice of a person, not of a governing party. In these systems the office of President stands by itself separate and apart from Congress which may be controlled by a party other than that to which the President belongs.”

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