Crushing the spirit of the Westminster system

Article 72 (1) of our country’s constitution explicitly states, “There shall be a Cabinet for The Bahamas which shall have the general direction and control of the government of The Bahamas and shall be collectively responsible therefore to Parliament.”

There is a reason for this.

In our system of democracy, there exists both a periodic and a regular mechanism that holds government to account.

The executive branch of our country stems from the House of Assembly.

At the end of what is usually an every five-year term, eligible citizens are asked to choose whom they wish to represent them in the House.

This is the periodic check – directly charging the citizens to maintain or remove the sitting administration that controls the government.

The prime minister is the chief minister of Cabinet and can only be chosen from among those elected to the House of Assembly.

The prime minister is responsible for appointing 12 of the 16-member Senate chamber from which only three members may sit in Cabinet at any one time.

All other members of Cabinet must come from the House.

Once a Cabinet is sworn in, the only check the people have on them before the House is once again dissolved is the Parliament.

This is the regular mechanism.

Though Cabinet ministers, which include ministers of state, are selected from the Parliament, once sworn-in as ministers they are collectively bound to the decisions of the Cabinet.

If a minister of the government does not support a decision, policy or legislation put forward in Parliament on behalf of the Cabinet, it is their duty to resign from Cabinet.

Though parliamentary secretaries are not members of the Cabinet, Section 21 of the Manual of Cabinet and Ministry Procedure clearly states, “A parliamentary secretary is a member of the government.

“At parliamentary meetings or committee meetings, he may play a full part by means of suggestion and criticism in the formulation of policy.”

However, the manual makes clear, “Once the government has established its course of action, it is the duty of the parliamentary secretary to give that course his full support in public.”

Failure to do so should result in resignation or termination.

It is left to members of the House of Assembly who are not bound to the executive to publicly scrutinize, critique, question and hold to account the actions of the executive in order to make sure government is being efficiently administered and is delivering on its responsibility to advance the progress of the nation and her people.

In our last two Parliaments, the number of members of the executive in the House of Assembly has been much greater than not only the number of members of the opposition but the number of members of the House of Assembly not in the executive.

This is not healthy for our democracy.

In recent circumstances, a flippant disregard for the traditions of the Parliament arose.

Most notably, this was shown in the refusal of members of the executive in the House since 2012 to answer questions of important public interest from members, and the hobbling of the Public Accounts Committee – the most powerful tool the Parliament has to probe government finances on an ongoing basis.

It is to our great disappointment then, that we have seen Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis come to power only to pack the executive with such a large number of members of the House of Assembly.

Davis has appointed 22 Cabinet ministers and seven parliamentary secretaries – 27 of whom will be MPs.

It flies in the face of the spirit of the Westminster system and is hypocritical.

Davis was fully on the bandwagon of those in the PLP criticizing former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham for appointing a “Gussie Mae” Cabinet of 20 members in 2012.

Even Ingraham eventually agreed his Cabinet was too large and reduced it to 15 members when he reshuffled that term.

Davis has repeatedly, and rightly, noted that we are in perilous economic times.

Therefore, his justification that to spend even more on government salaries because we need “all hands on deck” because of such harsh times falls flat, despite the relatively small dent it makes in the budget.

Yes, we have many, many challenges in our nation, but the way to address them is not to give more MPs executive posts.

We sincerely hope Davis can keep everyone in check while not stifling the checks on government our system demands.

It has not worked out so well for the last two supermajorities.

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