Appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister Not Farcical

THE VOICE Newspaper over the years has been a very popular medium conveying local, regional and international news to its readers, as well as opinionated articles. Through its editorial column, which is its opinion on the different issues of the day that impact the community, THE VOICE has presented arguments meant to influence public opinion, stimulate critical thinking and at times cause people to take action on an issue, like adhering to the COVID-19 protocols for example.

The editorials over the years have strived to engage and dissect issues not personalities, refrained from name-calling, dished out constructive criticism and provided solutions to national problems, which in this small island of ours have been many, way too many.

When THE VOICE speaks through its editorials it is to enlighten and in some cases open up issues for constructive public debate. Hence the reason why the Deputy Prime Minister debate on social media is our focus today.

What prompted this debate was a press release from the United Workers Party (UWP) issued last week when Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. The UWP stated in its first line that “the appointment of Hilaire as Deputy Prime Minister further solidifies that the SLP Government has scant regard for the Constitution of Saint Lucia, rule of law and the people’s right to know.”

The release called Hiliare’s appointment “farcical” and claimed there is no position such as Deputy Prime Minister in the Constitution of Saint Lucia.

It is a bit far-fetched of the UWP to say that Hilaire’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister means that government has scant regard for the Constitution. To assert that the government has scant regard for the Constitution without pointing out where the government violated the spirit of the Constitution or rules, laws, principles and fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens as contained within the said Constitution is disingenuous on the part of the UWP.

Calling Hilaire’s appointment farcical, which simply means ridiculously funny or absurd, is in itself farcical. What the writer/s of the UWP press release seemed to have missed is that the non-mention of a Deputy Prime Minister position in the Constitution of Saint Lucia does not mean that someone cannot be named as or perform the role of a Deputy Prime Minister.

Has the UWP forgotten that they were the ones who first set precedent in this matter? Let’s go back to the days of deceased Sir John Compton when deceased Sir William George Mallet was recognised, even in Hansard, as Deputy Prime Minister under Prime Minister John Compton. Is the Leader of the Opposition today saying that the unofficial/official recognition of Mallet as Deputy Prime Minister back then was farcical? All those who can remember can say that Mallet indeed conducted himself respectfully in that rank.

A quick look into our history has shown that there were other individuals who carried the mantle of Deputy Prime Minister, George Odlum comes to mind. So yes, within the order of government ministers of Saint Lucia a way has been established where someone can perform or be appointed to the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

John Peters writing on Facebook stated thus:

“A proper reading of the constitution would show that there is no restriction to appendages to the front or to the end of the title of Minister. When Sir John resigned as Prime Minister he assumed the office of Senior Minister. Other Caribbean islands have used the term Junior Minister. Hon Stephenson King was rightly given the title Senior Minister as a mark of respect of being a former Prime Minister, with the SLP keeping the tradition as set by Sir John.”

He further stated that “the constitution also gives freedom for the naming of the various portfolios of Government Minister, with the only restriction that if there is a Department of Finance, that Department must be given to an elected member. The functions of the Office of the Prime Minister require continuity and thus it is understandable that a Prime Minister may wish to structure his Cabinet to allow such continuity, with a named Deputy Prime Minister such continuity can be created.”

Mr. Peters is correct as far as he goes.

Section 63 of the Constitution states that whenever the Prime Minister is absent from Saint Lucia or by reason of illness is unable to perform the functions conferred on him by the Constitution the Governor General may authorize some other person to perform those functions. This is both a power and a discretion granted to the Governor General which he MAY choose to use.

The appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister cannot, per se, seek to alter the Constitution by derogating from that power.  Further, section 62 gives exclusive power to the Prime Minister to advise the Governor General (which advice the Governor General must take)  to assign to any minister responsibility for any business of the Government, including the administration of any department of Government – including the business of Deputy Prime Minister, such as it may be. The power to appoint carries with it the corollary of the power to remove.

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