The Significance of a Cabinet Reshuffle

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

by Lawrence A Joseph

The recent cabinet reshuffle in Grenada sparked off much debate by many Grenadians from all walks of life. Whilst debate on such issues is quite healthy from a governance perspective, it seems reasonable to hold the view that more information about the role and functions of the cabinet of ministers is needed by many. Whilst a Prime Minister may reshuffle his or her cabinet at his or her own discretion, it is reasonable to assume that a prudent Prime Minister would exercise a lot of thought before so doing. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that a prudent Prime Minister would hold consultations with relevant individuals in order to avoid dissent. This certainly did not seem to be the case some years ago when certain ministers seemed to have openly defied the reshuffling decisions of the then Grenadian Prime Minister. Many expressed the view that the then decisions appeared to be more of a punishment rather than a genuine attempt to maximize whatever benefits that may be derived from a reshuffle.

Some of the things which a Prime Minister may take into consideration in reshuffling his or her cabinet include the following: to enable parliamentarians to become exposed to a wider aspect of governance; to give representatives more opportunities to remain in their constituencies especially when their previous port folios involved a lot of travelling abroad; to instill new vigour into the cabinet and into the respective ministries; and to make adequate preparations for an upcoming general elections. It is to be noted that in a situation where the Attorney General is a public officer, that person automatically becomes a member of cabinet in an ex-officio capacity. That individual, therefore, cannot be reshuffled unless he or she is no longer a public officer.

The Cabinet of ministers represents the executive organ of governance in the state. The other organs of governance consist of the legislature and the judiciary. Section 23 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of the legislature, being the Parliament which consists of the Governor-General and members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. These officials are responsible for making the laws. Sections 101 to 105 provide for the establishment of the judiciary which consists of the judges and other officers of the courts who participate in the maintenance of law and order, inter alia. Sections 57, 58 and 59 provide for the establishment of the executive organ, being the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet of Ministers who are responsible for initiating the laws.

Arguably, it may be said that the executive organ of the state could be considered to be the most important organ. All important decisions of government emanate from the Cabinet. In order for this to happen, each cabinet minister has the responsibility of taking charge of relevant submissions for the consideration of cabinet. These submissions have to be prepared by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry before submissions are made. In accordance with section 67 of the Constitution, each minister has to exercise general direction and control over his or her department, however the Permanent Secretary has the responsibility to supervise the department and assist the minister.

In accordance with section 59 (3) of the Constitution, the functions of the cabinet include giving advice to the Governor-General concerning the governance of the state. In this regard cabinet is always held to be collectively responsible to Parliament for any such advice given. This means that no member of cabinet is entitled to make a statement outside of the cabinet that he or she disagreed with a particular decision of cabinet. If a minister feels very strongly against a decision which cabinet has made, then that minister has the obligation to resign from the cabinet. Notwithstanding this, the Prime Minister may lift the veil of collective cabinet responsibility in certain circumstances. Only recently the Prime Minister lifted the veil of collective cabinet responsibility with respect to voting on the Constitution Amendment Bills in the House of Representatives. On that occasion, ministers were free to approve or disapprove certain Constitutional Amendments.

Cabinet therefore performs a most important role in the governance of the state. This is why, before taking up their various cabinet positions, individuals are obliged under section 65 of the Constitution to swear to the Oath of Allegiance to the Head of State and to the Oath of Office that they will faithfully execute their respective offices without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and in the execution of the functions of those offices, they will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Grenada.

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