Our Constitution: Democracy or One-man rule? – Part 2
Just like in the case of the President and that of the Cabinet, so, too, our Constitution provides the Prime Minister with powers which may be used to control the Legislature, the Public Service, including the Police, and the Judiciary in carrying out their functions. Among these powers are the following, summarily stated:
(10)As Political Leader of his or her Party, to ultimately decide, in almost all cases, which persons contest national elections and, by this, have an opportunity to enter Parliament.
(11)To nominate five (5) persons for appointment as Senators in Parliament [Section 34(1)(a)].
(12)At his or her discretion, to advise the President to appoint this or that elected member or Senator of the House to the Offices of Minister of Government or Parliamentary Secretary.
(13)To remove Senators at will [Section 35(2)].
(14)To advise the President at any time, subject to certain conditions, to dissolve the House and call new elections, thereby putting to risk the political future of dissident majority Party Parliamentarians. [Section 54(4)].
(15)To usurp, that is to say, take away, the law-making function of Parliament as an institution, by appointment of a Cabinet comprised of the number of persons necessary to obtain, in most cases, a majority vote in Parliament.
The Public Service
(16)To determine which persons are recommended to the President for appointment to the Public Service Commission [Section 84(1)] and the Police Service Commission (Section 91).
(17)To veto nominees of the Public Service Commission for appointment to high-ranking public offices. Included among those Offices are those of Cabinet Secretary, Permanent Secretary, head and deputy head of a department of Government (except the departments of the Attorney General (A.G), the Director of Public Prosecutions (D.P.P), the Director of Audit, the Parliamentary Commissioner or Ombudsman, the Chief Elections Officer, and the Police Force), Clerk of the House of Assembly, Chief Professional Adviser to a department of Government, Ambassador and High Commissioner (Section 86).
(18)To greatly influence the Public Service Commission's nominee for the Office of Attorney General where the Office is a public, as opposed to a political, office.
(19)To influence the Public Service Commission, by way of the stipulated "consultation", as to the appointment of the D.P.P [Section 88(3)], and the Director of Audit [Section 89(3)].
(20)To advise the President as to the appointment and removal of the Attorney General, where the holder of the Office is a political appointee.
(21)To advise the President to appoint [Section 92(1)], and to influence the removal [Section 92(1); Section 93] of, the Chief of Police and the Deputy Chief of Police, or persons acting in these Offices.
(22)To veto the appointment of a person recommended to fill the office of Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
(23)By its power to control the Public Service Commission, to greatly influence the appointment of persons, substantively or in acting capacity, to the offices locally of Magistrate, Registrar of the High Court, Deputy Registrar of the High Court and the Attorney General, where that office is a public one (Section 90).
(24)To veto the extension of the tenure of the Chief Justice, Justices of the Court of Appeal, and Puisne Judges and Master of the High Court beyond the age of retirement [Supreme Court Order, Chap.4:01, Section 8(1)].
(25)To veto the quantum of remuneration, including salaries, 'allowances' and conditions of service, proposed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, in respect of the Chief Justice, Justices of the Court of Appeal, Puisne Judges and Masters of the High Court.
(26)To do the same in respect of proposals made by the Chief Justice, in the case of the Registrar General and Deputy Registrar of the High Court. (Supreme Court Order, Chap.4:01, Section 11-12).
Prerogative of Mercy
(27)To advise the President to reduce or completely remit any punishment imposed by a court on any person convicted of an offence [Section 73 (2); Section 74(5)].
(28)To advise the President to spare the life of any person under sentence of death, otherwise than by court-martial (Sections 73(1)(c); 73(2); Section 74(5); Section 75).
In effect, the Prime Minister is, by any measure, constitutionally all-powerful. Commenting in 2002 on the powers made available to its Office of Prime Minister under the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, holder of the Office reportedly stated: "...The excessive powers of the Prime Minister in the constitutional and political apparatuses (are) to such an extent that Parliamentary Government is reduced not merely to Cabinet government but to Prime Ministerial government". The provisions of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, like that of other countries served by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, are quite similar except in a limited number of matters, to that of Dominica.
Many years earlier, referring to his homeland, Barbados, Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, is said to have put it more bluntly. He reputedly said: "...When I hear the definition of the Office of the Prime Minister as being primus inter pares, first among equals, there is no way in this country that the Prime Minister is any primus inter pares, any first among equals ... Today the Prime Minister is so far ahead of the other members of Cabinet, that the old Latin phrase is not really applicable today. He is more than No.1; He is it; so much so that what we have in this country, I am positive about it, is not Cabinet Government. We have Prime Ministerial Government in this country, and we had better understand it, and what we are trying to do is to ensure that Prime Ministerial Government in this country does not run riot, that it has to be controlled by different centres in Government".
And, notably, in respect of the Westminster model British Constitution which gave birth to the Constitutions of England's former colonies, including in the English-speaking Caribbean, this is written: "...Hardly anyone today will make out a case for the proposition that the Prime Minister is merely primus inter pares, the first among equals, except in the formal sense that all are servants of the Crown. The central feature of recent controversies is the question of how far it is justifiable to speak of Prime Ministerial government rather than Cabinet government".
What, then, of our own country? The preamble to the Constitution boasts that "the people of Dominica ... have asserted their belief in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the institutions of the national life and thus develop and maintain due respect for lawfully constituted authority...". Concisely put, it promises governance by the will of the people. But, instead of democratic practice, it provides for Prime Ministerial government. It enshrines One-man rule.
(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Attorney-at-Law)
Copyright © William Para Riviere, October 2014
NOTE: Readers, we have come to the end of this road. "Igorantia legis non excusat" – Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If this Column has raised your level of awareness of our laws by a single point, our mission would have been accomplished. Thanks.