The dangers of weak Cabinet government

We have commented on a concern that so many members of the government are ignorant of their duties and responsibilities.

More ominously, they do not recognize their shortcomings and, hence, make no effort to better inform themselves.

Furthermore, they resent offers of advice or assistance.

They make policy pronouncements without knowing the ramifications.

One consequence of this tendency has been the concentration of all power in a single “competent authority”, the prime minister, under the Emergency Powers Regulation. That resulted in bottleneck confusion.

An obvious disastrous consequence was the approval by the minister responsible for aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar, for the landing of an aircraft with passengers at the behest of the then-Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands.

That two senior Cabinet ministers did not know that under the Order, only the prime minister could authorize an aircraft with passengers to land, is astounding.

The attorney general when questioned on the matter was himself confused.

In response to our reporter’s question, he said that “only the director of civil aviation is permitted to give authorization for someone to disembark an aircraft during this time.” When asked whether the minister of health had the legal authority to make such an authorization he added, “Health, when called upon, advises the director general of civil aviation (DGCA)”.

The situation of the apparent ignorance of three senior Cabinet ministers begs the question – was the Emergency Powers Regulation vesting power solely in the hands of the prime minister approved by Cabinet?

It is noteworthy that emergency orders in another CARICOM state vests emergency powers in the Cabinet. Their Cabinet collectively instructs relevant authorities like the police, civil aviation or immigration to carry out the decisions of the Cabinet as appropriate.

Last Thursday, Atlantis announced the reopening of The Royal and Harbourside Resort beginning July 7 and The Cove on July 14 and advised that among amenities to become available will be miles of white sand beaches, pools, fitness center and spa among other amenities.

Yesterday, the prime minister announced in Parliament a reduction by one hour in the overnight curfew, the reopening of beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and Bimini on June 29 and of gyms and spas and the reintroduction of indoor dining, all to observe established social distancing guidelines.

Elsewhere, such announcements might have been expected in advance of private sector announcements and been made public by ministers responsible for the police, tourism, beaches and parks, and business license.

The lax, careless understanding by ministers of their authority is troubling. It lends itself to misuse or abuse.

It was only after the considerable public embarrassment, when the prime minister used the overstepping of authority under emergency orders by the two senior ministers as a pretext to shame one — the minister of health, but not the other – the minister of tourism, that an amendment to the order was made.

The authority for approving the landing of aircraft with passengers was placed in the hands of the minister responsible for civil aviation. Elsewhere, such authority would have been vested in both aviation and health.

It is especially concerning that ignorance of the operation of government exists at the highest level of the government, amongst Cabinet ministers including the attorney general, who appear to be unfamiliar with the full scope of their responsibilities.

Benjamin Franklin, emerging from the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was asked whether the United States of America would be a monarchy or a republic. He is alleged to have responded “A republic, if you can keep it”.

Some recall that a founding father of our country, A.D. Hanna, frequently said that at the time of negotiation of the Bahamian independence order, the British delegation queried whether colleagues wished to be governed by Cabinet or a prime minister. Our constitution vests authority in the Cabinet.

It may not be far-fetched for us to ask now whether we are maintaining government by Cabinet.

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