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The PM in the Constitution
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Should a revised Constitution allow the actions of a prime minister to be beyond a thorough investigation conducted within the governmental structure ie the President and the Parliament? Should such investigation and decisions be left only to public opinion, the courts, the calypsonians, mauvais langue and tribal judgement in a political culture bifurcated along racial lines?
That is the constitutional question of the day as I continue to explore constitutional issues and relate them to contemporary and historical experiences. Last week, in the examination of the doctrine of the separation of powers, it was demonstrated that the Government, effectively the Prime Minister, has electoral/voting control over the Parliament built into the structure.
And even on occasion when the ruling party may be given the most marginal of mandates, the Prime Minister can, and a prime minister has, defied the constitution and built up a larger majority than that given by the electorate when he persuaded opposition MPs to cross the floor, and also scuttled a post-election Tobago coalition partner to achieve total dominance in Government.
With the political culture not given to conscience voting but demanding that MPs have blind loyalty to what has been determined by the leaders of government business in both Houses, it means that the Prime Minister has total control of what transpires in the Parliament, the institution meant to keep a check on the executive.
Further, the Constitution legislates against the crossing of the floor by MPs, but even the implementation of that principle is dependent on the Prime Minister putting regulations in place. Successive prime ministers have not and so have overturned a constitutional principle; that is how powerful the prime minister is under present constitutional arrangements.
But successive prime ministers have gone even further to exercise total control over Parliament and the executive by appointing large numbers of ministers from among MPs, elected and selected, to the Cabinet where the Prime Minister has full control over them. As an example of that total control, witness in the present where elected MP Herbert Volney, fired from the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, is willing to stand on his head to defend said Prime Minister while claiming to have been made the fall guy.
He is doing so because he recognises the Prime Minister as the all-powerful one. Without a full-paying job, the Prime Minister can make Volney say that the sky is pink, that elephants are typically orange and full adult elephant bulls on average weigh 120 pounds. Tackling the question posed at the start, which is the current constitutional predicament, requires the constitutional reform process to determine whether a Prime Minister should be beyond having to account for issues when the responses given, even in the Parliament, have been less than satisfactory.
Hazel Manning once retorted to a question from a reporter that the Prime Minister, her husband, had spoken on a particular matter and that was it. Should that be the final word without institutional investigation? Back in 2010, before the May elections, prime minister Patrick Manning, pressed by the media, public opinion, opposition political parties and individuals about the relationship of the Government (himself in our model as painted above) and the church of Rev Juliana Pena, gave his explanation in Parliament.
It satisfied few. Jack Warner and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, on the eve of the election, held a news conference and produced large pictures to dispute Manning’s explanation. Fortunately for the country, the election date had already been declared and so the population had an opportunity to cast its vote on the Manning explanation.
What of times like the present when the election has not been called, is 30 months away, and so the electorate cannot vote on what it may consider the lack of transparency in the account so far given by the Prime Minister for the partial and secretive proclamation of Section 34, even the offering of Volney’s head on a political platter?
What of the yet-to-be-explained instance of the Prime Minister appointing a clearly unqualified, inexperienced and totally unsuitable low-level technician to the position of head of the lead intelligence agency in the country? Should the country simply move on? As far as the PM’s senior ministers are concerned (remembering they have to sing the right chorus) her explanation should not even be questioned by the President of the Republic, even in the instance where the Constitution is quite clear that a President has every right to ask the Prime Minister for an explanation.
• To be continued