President of Dominica, His Excellency Charles Savarin
President of Dominica, His Excellency Charles Savarin

Dominica has begun searching for a new president because the incumbent, His Excellency Charles Angelo Savarin, leaves the post in October 2023 after two successive five-year terms, the maximum the Dominica Constitution will allow.

But the quantity and quality of discussion Dominica has had on the President's role, function and qualifications could have been better. This laissez-faire attitude to the post of President is not in keeping with the importance of the Head of State of a democratic country.

In addition, we have not discussed the ten-year tenure of Mr Savarin and whether he, as he promised in 2016, served "with dignity and dedication, impartiality, objectivity, fairness and consideration for all following provisions of the constitution."

Undoubtedly, Mr Savarin served as the President of Dominica with dignity and dedication; as far as we can discern, there were no major scandals in his decade-long tenure as Head of State.

But we need to figure out his report card on impartiality, objectivity and fairness.

Let's take one salient example to grade Mr Savarin's impartiality, objectivity and fairness.

What has been President Savarin's position on electoral reform, one of the most divisive issues that have engaged Dominica's attention for over a decade?

Has it been "impartial, objective and fair" as it should be from a supposedly non-political President, or has he been an echo chamber for the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) on that important issue? Couldn't Mr. Savarin select someone, like Julian Johnson or Joffrey Harris, to fill the position of Chairman of the Electoral Commission instead of persons who owe the government big time for being on the privileged list as sellers of passports? After all, the appointment of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is one of the few decisions that the Constitution allows the President to make in his own deliberate judgement.

It is our view that in the post of President, Mr Savarin has performed no better or worse than his background would allow him or the restrictive post of President of Dominica would permit. In other words, Mr Savarin could not do better than anyone with his experience would; and the position of President would allow him to, even if he wanted to be fair, unbiased and objective. We will clarify that last point shortly.

But first, a brief look at Mr Savarin's Curriculum Vitae (CV) shows that he was recruited from Dominica's extremely divisive party political landscape. He was head of the 1979 Civil Service Association (CSA), the labour union responsible for decapitating Patrick John's DLP administration; he headed the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP); he was a member of the coalition that capsized the one-term administration of the United Workers Party (UWP); he moved over after the coalition collapsed, to the Skerrit-led DLP and then Skerrit handpicked him to be President of Dominica. Recall that when President Savarin was appointed for the second term in 2016, all 20 DLP members of parliament voted to reappoint him; the opposition not only didn't vote for Mr Savarin, it walked out of parliament.

So, after such an extensive background in divisive party politics, do to expect anyone, not only Mr Savarin, to suddenly become "objective, fair and impartial" because he now sits in the chair of the President? Are we incredibly naïve?

Let's now take a radical look at the Presidency of Dominica as it stands today and as it was created when Dominica became a republic after independence from Britain in 1978.

Dominica has a president with little or no independent power or authority. Instead, we have a President who "acts on the advice of the Prime Minister" in almost all major decisions.

The President of Dominica is like the Queen of England (now King), whom we, the people, supply with palace-like accommodation, manicured lawns, free utilities, police guards and servants, and staff added to a very lucrative monthly salary and pension.

Like the King of England, the President of Dominica, in other words-our local sovereign- has no executive authority. He merely assents to documents sent to him for signature from parliament or the Prime Minister's office; he meets with the PM at prearranged times to receive, not give, instructions from the prime minister.

"With the greatest respect to the Office of the Presidency, the truth is…the presidency of our country is a mere ceremonial office clothed in the appearance, rather than the reality of political power," writes Dr William "Para" Riviere on page 23 of the book "Our Constitution: Democracy or one-man rule?"

Riviere added: "The holder of the office represents a mere figurehead of State. He or she is invested with no meaningful power of discretion, therefore, independent action. Further, he or she is essentially subject to the "advice", that is to say, the orders and dictates of the Prime Minister directly or to the wishes of organs of government that are largely appointed and controlled by the Prime Minister."

Dr Riviere contended that the Dominica Constitution had created a dictatorship clothed in the clothes of democracy.

In other words, the prime minister selects, appoints, and controls the President through his all-pervasive power.

"More correctly, it is the Prime Minister as individual, not the Cabinet as collective that from the standpoint of our Constitution dominates the Legislature. In fact, the power and authority of the Prime Minister go beyond this. It is all-pervasive. The Constitution invests the Prime Minister with power, directly and indirectly, to effectively control not only the Legislature but, as well, the Head of State, the Cabinet of Ministers and the institutions of Public Administration, including the Security Forces. And the Prime Minister is equipped with power to greatly influence the functioning of the Judiciary," wrote lawyer and historian, the late Dr William "Para" Riviere in an article published in the SUN in November 2014 entitled: "Our Constitution-Democracy or One-man Rule".

The point is that if the President of Dominica is to be a unifier, a President to all Dominicans, he or she cannot be a party politician of any colour. Otherwise, that role of the President is "dead on arrival". And if Dominica wants value for money from our presidency, the post of President cannot be ceremonial; it must be executive. So, Dominica, we urge you to thoughtfully discuss where you go with your post of Head of State after His Excellency Charles Angelo Savarin leaves. The next President could be in that job for a decade.