by J K Roberts
One of the key areas being raised for constitutional amendment, in the 2013 elections manifesto of the New National Party (NNP) of Dr Keith Mitchell, is the “executive powers of Cabinet”. Unfortunately, there is no indication of any meaningful consideration of this critical issue, by the Constitution Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC) which realized the existence of the proposed Select Committee to be “charged with the responsibility to present written recommendations to the Cabinet, after examining proposals from the public, as to the precise form and content of amendments to the Constitution”. This failing may well be the most telling indictment on CRAC, in the finalization of amendment Bills for a constitutional referendum. Review “Grenada Constitution Reform: CRAC Ultra Vires” and “Current Recommendations for Grenada Constitution Reform as approved in principle by Cabinet”.
Executive power is the heartbeat of political governance; it relates to the branch of Government that has the responsibility to formulate policies, enforce laws and direct the general administration of the nation. Executive power centers virtually in the Cabinet of Ministers, although it is vested in the Governor-General; as outlined under Chapter IV of the Constitution. The Prime Minister being the head of the Cabinet and designated as the first amongst its equals, sets the ‘pace and pulse’ for the heartbeat. Therefore addressing any questions on the executive powers of the Cabinet must primarily speak to the ‘powers and privileges’ of the Prime Minister; secondary to this is the ‘role and relevance’ of the Governor-General, or of the type President adopted. Indeed the leadership status of the Prime Minister has being a sore point for the people throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, in principle and in practice; and the extent and use of this leadership has been denounced as untenable by constitutional lawyers, political scientists and proponents of democratic (constitutional) reforms.
Chairman of CRAC, Dr Francis Alexis QC, highlighted in the November 2003 magazine of the Grenada Bar Association, OYEZ! OYEZ! (Vol. 3, No. 1), under the section Constitutional Reform Forum with the mission “putting people first”, that “Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Sir Fred Phillips are ad idem on the observation that, in our small Caribbean states, a Prime Minister wields an all pervasive influence. This means that, as Sir Fred puts it, p. 339 (Commonwealth Caribbean Constitutional Law, 2002), it is easy for a Prime Minister to manipulate almost everything and many people. This is a hint of prime ministerial dictatorship, which is to be rejected.” Dr Alexis is in the company of the late Grenadian Professor of Jurisprudence Simeon Randy McIntosh, as well as Vincentian Prime Minister Gonsalves and the late Quintessential West Indian Sir Phillps of St Kitts and Nevis, for publications / presentations on constitutional reforms; Alexis mooting particularly for Grenada that “whether all such powers need continue to be vested in the Prime Minister should be looked at in Constitution Reform.”
The different arms or branches of Government bring into focus the Doctrine of the Separation of State Power, from which they are derived. Within a legislative framework, these branches typify the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary as under Commonwealth democracy. The Doctrine was established to prevent total power and control from residing in a single person or body of persons, and thus mitigating against autocracy and tyranny. In effect, the Doctrine seeks to preserve individual liberties within the rule of law and to promote good governance featuring accountability and transparency. The Doctrine provides for distinct and independent governmental structures, with each serving as checks and balances for the others. Whether in a presidential system such as is present in the United States of America or in a parliamentary system as in Grenada, there is the need to define and refine the limits of the ‘authority and domain’ of each arm of Government and the extent of application of their roles; moreover, is the need to ensure there is no conflict and no fusion of the separate arms and personnel.
The position of CRAC on the issue of the executive powers of Cabinet may have been consolidated in terms of the sentiments of constitutional lawyer, Dr Lawrence A. Joseph, as expressed in his internet-circulated article, “The Doctrine of Separation of Powers and the Constitution”, with his cunning statement thus, “it seems therefore that the situation where there is overlap between the legislature (Parliament) and the executive as is presently the situation in Grenada is quite acceptable”. Dr Joseph held many executive and legislative positions in the administration of the NNP; he was also a member of the CRAC and is presently a consultant on constitutional reform, but his declaration is not ‘sound and genuine’. The conclusion could be true only on the basis of ignorance of the people on the Doctrine, or on the basis of the surrender of the people in their pursuit for institutional strengthening.
Dr Joseph’s argument on the constitutional configuration of having ‘the Executive and the Parliament being two in one’ lacks completeness and cohesiveness. At the least, it goes contrary to the rationale for the NNP itemizing the issue of the executive powers of Cabinet in its 2013 manifesto; notwithstanding that the issue could have been included as an election ploy. Moreover, his argument does not give credence to the thinking of the likes of Alexis, McIntosh, Gonsalves and Phillips on the issue; or for that matter, Joseph may be thinking that their thinking does not represent the thinking of the people, or yet further, he may be dismissing the thinking that executive powers are synonymous with the powers of the Prime Minister. Dr Alexis himself seems to abandon his position on the powers of the Prime Minister, as he may have been convinced that conditions have already changed for Better Governance, or that he has not able to convince the people to reject prime ministerial dictatorship.
Grenada has always had austere and ugly consequences from maladministration with impunity, by the Executive and the Prime Minister; generally, the maladministration gets legitimacy from the Parliament. Is Dr Joseph also saying that the Grenadian people now accepts or becomes cultured to the atrocities and abuses which marked the regime of Sir Eric Gairy and gave rise to the February 1975 Duffus Report and the March 1979 People’s Revolution; that the Grenadian people is now ignoring the damaging findings of the March 1991 Worrel Report on the regime of the first NNP; and that the Grenadian people has now proven wrong the litany of alleged corruption and cronyism, including the September 2007 Cheltenham Report, against the regime of Dr Keith Mitchell from 1995 to 2008?
It should be very clear that, apart from the likelihood of instituting draconian rule and outrageous laws, the powers of the Executive / Prime Minister affect the social and economic well-being of the people, as well as the sustainability and resilience of the nation. A present case in point is the sole power given by Parliament to the Minister of Finance (who is Prime Minister Mitchell) to change virtually the market price of petrol, even without the knowledge of Parliament, in the interest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the gross expense of the people; reference to “Act No. 10 of 2015, Petrol Tax (Amendment)”, “Grenada and the IMF (Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding — 12 June 2015)” and “Non Reduction of Fuel in the National Interest says PM Mitchell”.
Quite often, the Prime Minister exercises executive powers clandestinely and closed-door, without the appreciation for consultations and engagements with the people. Rhetoric, propaganda, barriers to information and distractions from issues, are hallmarks by which the Executive shows respect and goodwill to the people and boasts of its innovations and achievements. Grenadians are now asked to share in sacrifices, under a so-called IMF supported Home Grown Structural Adjustment Programme of fiscal adjustments and structural reforms; it is aimed at mainly servicing a high national debt, brought about from the type and manner of deals orchestrated and undertaken recklessly by the said Prime Minister who is seeking Social Partnership to save his face. At least two things are unfair about the call for sacrifice; the first is, the people were not partakers of the poor decisions made and secondly the weight of the sacrifice is being borne by the people. See “Presentation on Grenada’s Home-Grown Programme” which does not give ‘thorough details’ on how the predicament developed.
Parliament has meant to be the nucleus for the representation of the people; however the House of Representatives serves partisan interests, with the absence of conscientious and patriotic voting. More pointedly, Parliament is the institution to which the Executive is accountable; as it stands though, Parliament is made to be subordinate of the Executive and thus having its function and authority discredited. Parliamentary rules and regulations are not adhered to, parliamentary Standing Committees such as the public accounts committee are ineffective, and answers are not forthcoming in Parliament. This sad situation is compounded with the non-provision for a representative of Civil Society (for the ‘unaccounted masses’) in the Senate. No doubt, the call for such a provision is a ‘beneficial and worthwhile’ proposal from the public for the constitutional referendum, but it is one which the CRAC and the Government are not advancing; and thus causing discord and disenchantment.
Genuine constitutional reform for Grenada must realize great efforts to reduce the powers of the Executive, to strengthen the functioning of the Parliament, to stimulate due process by the Judiciary, and to reflect the empowerment of Civil Society. This aspiration is common for the ‘democratic’ nations of the world. Particularly, the executive powers of the President of the United States of America and that of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have being challenged for regulations, including making constitutional provisions for the issuance of lawsuits for failures on their part to observe laws and to act within the laws. In addressing the executive powers of the Cabinet in Grenada, emphasis must be placed on delinking the Executive from the Parliament; that is, removing the stranglehold of the Executive on the Parliament, via political terrorism by the Prime Minister.
Section 38 of the Constitution specifies that Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Grenada. The ‘non-militant and non-radical’ stance of the people on the conduct of the affairs of the nation by the powers-that-be, may be sending the misleading view that Grenadians accept the compromise of having the Executive and the Parliament overlapping in its roles and personnel. However this conclusion must never be taken for granted, as Grenadians prepare to show their displeasure, by a No Vote to constitutional amendments which fall-short of real Peoples’ Power.