Controlling the reins of power
As a matter of principle, acting Prime Ministers should be elected members of Parliament who hold leadership positions in their party. As a matter of politics, successive Prime Ministers have instead preferred to appoint persons who pose no threat to them.
When he was Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday once put Senator Lindsay Gillette to act when he was out of the country, a move apparently calculated to demonstrate how maximum a leader Panday was. PNM leader Patrick Manning, in his turn, favoured his right-hand man Lenny Saith, a Senator who never faced the electorate.
Now, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is in St Lucia until Friday for the 33rd Caricom Heads of Government Conference, has appointed Labour Minister Errol McLeod who, while an elected Member of Parliament, claims to belong to no political party since the Movement for Social Justice withdrew from the People's Partnership coalition. The logic of all three Prime Ministers is obvious — when they aren't physically present to control the reins of power, they prefer to have someone without power holding them.
A Government Senator, who is appointed solely at the Prime Minister's pleasure and who can be kicked out in the time it takes to write a letter the President, is ideal. So too is Mr McLeod who, although a member of the MSJ, was elected on a UNC ticket, and who therefore now has no constituency save in the formal sense that he is a member of the House of Representatives.
While Section 78 of the Constitution gives the Prime Minister the right to appoint any Cabinet member to act in her post, it contradicts in spirit Section 76 (1) which mandates that the Prime Minister is chosen on the basis of being leader "of the party which commands the support of the majority of members of that House." Consistency would demand that an appropriate person to act as Prime Minister would therefore also be someone who had the support of the members, such as the ruling party's Deputy Leader.
Such a provision is enshrined in the American Constitution, because mature nations don't want free-for-all political infighting in the event their leader is unable to perform their duties. In our polity, however, Prime Ministers aren't even willing to groom successors, for fear of creating a rival. Having term limits would help resolve such issues, but the People's Partnership, which made this a campaign promise, now appears disinterested in the initiative.
As with diplomatic postings, the choice of acting Prime Minister sends a signal about who is in favour and who is not, and may be held out as a treat for good behaviour. Such shenanigans demean the office of Prime Minister, and should not be indulged by a responsible leader.