Is Dominica's Parliament a waste of resources?
Dominica's application of the Westminster model makes Parliament a particularly impotent, largely farcical and definitely ineffective institution. Some persons may, rather bluntly but largely accurately, describe Dominica's parliament as a fanciful way of wasting scarce resources.
Political commentators, both here and in the region, have expressed similar views on the ineffectiveness of parliament in some Caribbean countries but it would be naïve indeed to anticipate any major changes in the execution of Westminster in the region any time soon.
For instance, attorney-at-law and historian William "Para" Riviere in an article in the Sun (published November 2014) entitled "Our Constitution: Democracy or one-man rule" states, categorically, that the intention of the founding fathers of our nation was that the Executive would be collectively responsible to Parliament.
Dr. Riviere argues that "quite apart from nebulously stating so at Section 60(3), the Constitution signally fails to provide any mechanism at all by which such collective responsibility might be achieved. The plain truth…is that it makes ample provision for the diametrical opposite, namely, that the Executive would dominate Parliament".
Dr. Riviere then makes this profound statement: "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 goes 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."
In other words, the Constitution creates a dictator out of the Prime Minister. And that fact will be demonstrated with the re-appointment of Alix Boyd-Knights, the Speaker of Dominica's House of Assembly for the past 15 years. She will begin her new term after parliament meets to appoint a Speaker on Friday20th February 2015. Unfortunately, Parliament will "pretend" that it had a say in the appointment of Boyd-Knights when in truth and in fact it is the Prime Minister who has selected Boyd-Knights.
Note that the situation is similar in Guyana where Dr. David Hinds, professor of political science at the University of Arizona states in an article entitled "Government, not strong opposition" that Guyana "pretends" to adhere to the Westminster model when in fact "it has clung for dear life to a crude adversarial Westminster where the opposition is by definition weak and ineffectual."
Dr. Hinds suggests that Parliamentary Committees on which members sit and which includes members of Cabinet makes "a joke" of the so-called oversight functions of Parliament. It's like Cabinet overseeing itself.
That takes us to the up-coming re-appointment of the Alix Boyd-Knights to the post of Speaker of the House of Assembly who, the opposition contends, has been doing the bidding of the Skerrit administration for 15 years.
In our view, the antagonism between the Speaker and the opposition during the past 15 years will continue unless Dominica adopts a more nonpartisan method of appointing the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Currently, the Constitution gives the Prime Minister the prerogative to select the Speaker although we pretend that it is Parliament that appoints that person to the post.
In parliamentary democracies, the Speaker is expected to ensure the orderly and effective functioning of the legislative arm of government. This was underscored by Sir Brian Alleyne a few years ago when he said in a speech that the Speaker is the "servant" of the Parliament, not its master, and speaks "as the House is pleased to direct." The Speaker, he added, is bound by the rules and conventions governing the conduct of the proceedings of the House. He/she is not the servant of the Executive, and indeed is bound to jealously preserve the privileges of the House and its members against any incursion by the executive. But what about a situation where the Executive and Parliament acts as one single institution?
Hence, we argue, that the neutrality of the Speaker is a myth; an ideal that the system strives for but will never attain. We are of the view that there is a fundamental contradiction between what is theoretically expected from Speakers of the House of Assembly in the Westminster system of Government that we inherited from Britain and what exists in practice in Dominica today.
Parliament, as well, is brazenly undemocratic. It is the opinion of many that the prime ministers in the region are unacknowledged kings or dictators who control, with an iron fist, not only their cabinets but also parliament and its agenda. In fact Parliament of Dominica is no more than an unadorned rubber stamp of the Executive branch of government, especially in the present environment where the Skerrit-led government has a relatively large 15/6 majority.
In the speech we referred to earlier, Sir Brian postulated that although the framers of our Constitution have built in a number of checks and balances in the system of government, it nonetheless takes a proactive civil society with honest administrators to ensure that the system works.
Undoubtedly, Parliament is being monopolized by the Dominica Labour Party and specifically by the Prime Minister. But the Opposition says it will strive to make a difference during the current term of the Parliament. It is our view that the Opposition will achieve its goal only if the Prime Minister, and by extension, the Speaker, allows it. In the current circumstances it will take a political miracle for Parliament to do anything else but the bidding of the Prime Minister.