In Part 1 of this article, the point was made that where the powers of a government have been usurped for nefarious private purpose, or if there has been other malfeasance, the incumbents ought under natural law to be removed with all deliberate swiftness, just as for a coup, or attempted coup. For usurpation is like a coup, except that the coup-makers are silent and hidden, therefore all the more dangerous.
The question here now addressed is, does the President, under our Constitution, have the power to dismiss a Prime Minister who is guilty of usurpation, or other malfeasance? The answer to that is yes. But it is a matter of reliable inference, as opposed to explicit provision. This requires some discussion.
First, it must be recognised that such a power is not absolute, since a President may be impeached. The court of impeachment must comprise the entire Parliament (House and Senate together). For a motion of impeachment to pass, a special (two-thirds) majority is required, and the involvement of four most senior justices, in effect to lay out the case; see Sections 35 and 36.
This check on the President seems sufficient to ensure that it is only where the Prime Minister is clearly guilty of usurpation or other malfeasance, that the President should even think of using his power to remove a Prime Minister.
But the power itself is real.
Section 81 provides that the President has the power to demand from the Prime Minister an answer to any question he may have on any particular matter regarding the conduct of the government, and the Prime Minister is obliged to answer. Therefore, the Constitution must intend that the President has power to act, should answers to a Section 81 inquiry be inadequate. Otherwise, Section 81 is vacuous.
Moreover, the Constitution grants the President immunity in respect of any action he may take in his official capacity; see Section 38(1).
And finally, the Constitution vests the President with authority over the armed forces, as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief; see Section 22. Therefore, the President would have at his disposal military means of enforcement should drastic action be necessary.
One may therefore infer that the framers intended that the President has the power. Certainly there is no power that may restrain him except the threat of, or actual, impeachment.
The power has been demonstrated in fact. President Robinson "fired" a sitting prime minister, Basdeo Panday. The circumstances there were special, given the tie at the polls. But the power was nevertheless demonstrated, whatever one may think of the justification offered.
As stated, a President may be challenged, but it would take an impeachment proceeding to do so. Clearly, a high hurdle, by design, would have to be crossed, for an impeachment proceeding against the President to succeed. In a scenario where it is the Prime Minister's behaviour that is called into question – as with a charge of usurpation, or other malfeasance – on the basis of clear evidence, it is unlikely that such an impeachment proceeding would be mounted, let alone succeed.
Therefore, on the maintained hypothesis of a Prime Minister guilty of usurpation or other malfeasance, it is unlikely that the President may be successfully resisted in asserting his power to fire the Prime Minister. Again on the maintained scenario of usurpation or malfeasance, an aroused citizenry would indeed support a President in such action.
The necessary premise that must be reiterated here is that the Prime Minister has gone rogue, not merely that they are guilty of ineptitude. Good-faith errors of an otherwise honourable government should indeed be put to the House, in the first instance, and to the electorate at the next election cycle, in the second instance, for correction. The President should leave good-faith mistakes, missteps and other such matters well alone.
But a rogue government is another matter entirely. In that instance, the power of the President is to my mind clear, and his duty likewise. If the answer to a Section 81 inquiry is inadequate, then the President has the option of using his powers, as Head of State and Commander-in-chief, to remove a rogue Prime Minister and indeed an entire government.
If the Prime Minister is innocent, and satisfactorily responds to a Section 81 inquiry, the matter would become moot, and the President may retract his fangs.
But the reserve power of the President as the ultimate check-and-balance against a rogue Prime Minister is real. If he would use it. (The first part of this article appeared in yesterday's Express).
• Sidney Thomas has had a varied
career as World Bank executive,
university lecturer, and international
development consultant. He holds a PhD in operations research from the University of Toronto (1980). He is today a Nazarite
servant of Yahweh.