Thursday, Jul 9, 2020
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Stop using parliamentary secretaries as voting pawns

Dear Editor,

“A coward dies ten thousand deaths; a man he dies but once.”

Congratulations. Congratulations to the courageous four who put their conscience before their pocketbooks.

The person who appears to be the prime minister’s hatchet man, Carl Bethel, let the cat out of the bag when he publicly threatened the dissenters in Parliament that if they did not vote with the government they would be fired. It was said that the Westminster system demanded it.

Well they seem to rely on the Westminster system when it’s convenient but ignore it when it’s not. Had it been relied on consistently over the years, many politicians would have either resigned or not run again.

But let us look at the Westminster system and how it applied to the parliamentary secretaries in the most recent case of voting in the House of Assembly. It is true that parliamentary secretaries are obliged to vote with the government or offer their resignations.

This is true under the Westminster system. But what is a parliamentary secretary and what role does he/she play in the government?

In England, a parliamentary secretary acts almost as a deputy Cabinet minister. The position was created to help organize a huge ministry, involving thousands of people. In The Bahamas, the parliamentary secretary is essentially a hired hand used to guarantee votes for the government in the House of Assembly.

Most parliamentary secretaries in The Bahamas do nothing other than collect extra money for the position. But they are important to the dictatorial way in which the Bahamian government has operated for many years.

I remember in the early eighties Sir Lynden Pindling appointed two parliamentary secretaries. At the time both Sir Kendal Isaacs and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, along with the other members of the FNM in the House of Assembly, were vehemently opposed to it.

We maintained then that it was only a maneuver to put almost dictatorial power into the hands of the prime minister. Over the years the respective prime ministers, both PLPs and FNMs, appear to have used this method of controlling parliamentarians. It has become a dictatorship.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say there are 25 members in the House, 10 in opposition, and 15 in government.

The prime minister appoints 10 of the 15 as Cabinet ministers and five as parliamentary secretaries. The other 10 are opposition. The Cabinet members get paid as ministers and vote in Cabinet. The parliamentary secretaries get paid but don’t vote in Cabinet, but, when the motion goes to the House, they must vote with the Cabinet.

For example, if six Cabinet ministers are in favor of a motion to increase taxes, and four oppose it, the motion carries. In this example, if the five parliamentary secretaries oppose the motion, they can’t vote their objection.

The motion now comes before the House for passing. Ten Cabinet ministers must vote for it. Five parliamentary sectaries must vote for it. Ten opposition members vote against it. The motion carries.

Note, only six of the 15 approved it. Had the parliamentary sectaries been allowed to vote their consciences, the motion would not have carried. They simply said “yes sir, boss”, or “how high do you want me to jump… on the way up?”

But the government cries, “Vote with us or we’ll fire you.” Dictatorship?

In my opinion, all parliamentary secretaries should resign their positions, and all members of Parliament who serve as the chairman of any government boards should resign as chairman.

I suggest they become beholden to the people who voted for them. Stop being voting pawns.

– Pierre V.L. Dupuch

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